Discrimination at Work

  • Discrimination
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Every business must ensure staff are protected against harassment, bullying, and discrimination.

When an employee is discriminated against at work, the consequences affect the whole company.

Neglecting these actions could lead to discriminatory claims - resulting in tribunal attendance, compensation penalties, and reputational damage.

In this guide, we'll look at what discrimination is, examples of unfair treatment, and how to eliminate it within your company.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is when a person is treated less favourably than someone else, based on a protected characteristic.

Work discrimination can occur intentionally or without intention. (For example, like direct discrimination or indirect discrimination). Colleagues, customers, even employers can show discriminatory treatment towards a worker.

They often feel disrespected, undervalued, and hurt because of these actions. That's why it's important to eliminate discrimination at work as much as reasonably possible.

What are examples of workplace discrimination?

There are several situations where an employee can be discriminated against at work. For example:

  • Recruitment: Having an interview process which directly rejects job applicants who are disabled (for no good reason).
  • Training: Not offering management training to employees who are pregnant or have children.
  • Probation: Neglecting promotional opportunities to young people despite having relevant skills. 
  • Contract of employment: Not allowing employees to take leave for religious holidays based on their statutory time off.
  • Pay and benefits: Paying female employees less than their male colleagues, despite being in the same employment role.
  • Redundancy: Forcing an older employee to take early retirement during a workplace reshuffle.
  • Dismissal: Terminating an employee's job because of their sexual orientation.

Why is it important to identify discrimination at work?

Every employer has a legal duty of care when it comes to identifying workplace discrimination.

Employees should be treated with equality and fairness at work. The benefits of identifying discrimination at work allows you to:

  • Create a safe and healthy workplace environment.
  • Reduce bullying, harassment, and victimisation.
  • Support equal rights and entitlements.
  • Provide workplace changes to applicable employees.

Are there different types of discrimination?

Yes, there are different types of discriminatory actions. These acts can be categorised into several forms:

  • Direct discriminationWhen an employee receives overt prejudicial and unfavourable treatment, like associative and perceptive discrimination.
  • Indirect discriminationWhen a practice disqualifies or neglects a particular group.
  • Discrimination arising from a disabilityWhen an employee faces disadvantages because of something relating to their disability (rather than the condition itself). 
  • Failing to provide reasonable adjustmentsWhen you offer to change the working conditions for disabled staff.
  • HarassmentWhen a person is made to feel scared due to hostile conduct or environments.
  • VictimisationWhen someone receives unwanted treatment or attention after raising a complaint at work.

What is the UK law on discrimination at work?

It is unlawful to discriminate against an employee based on ‘protected characteristics'. Under the Equality Act 2010, there are nine protected characteristics:

If you discriminate because of a protected characteristic, the employee may decide to make a claim to the employment tribunal (ET). If judges find you guilty, you could face monetary penalties, work disruption, and even business closure.

Can discrimination be objectively justified?

Despite generally being wrong, you can be discriminated against through legal manners. This is known as being 'objectively justified'.

The law protects the employer because their discriminatory action is deemed as indirect and therefore defensible. Under employment law, objective justification shows ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

Here are examples when laws protect discriminatory actions:

  • For the health, safety, and welfare of individuals.
  • To gain economic efficiency.
  • To avoid fraud.
  • When rewarding capability or experience.

Remember, employers cannot justify discriminatory actions themselves. Rather, they're judged within a legal process, like through a judicial court.

How to eliminate discrimination in the workplace

Every employer has a legal duty to ensure staff aren't treated unfairly or unlawfully. By doing so, they can champion equality and diversity–leading to business success.

Here are ways to eliminate discrimination in the workplace:

  • Introduce an equal opportunities policy, which highlights zero-tolerance for bullying, harassment, and victimisation.
  • Ensure all staff understand what discrimination means and its different forms. (For example, direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, disability discrimination, etc.).
  • Offer reasonable adjustments, like flexible hours or mental health support. (This only applies for disability discrimination).
  • Present a strong grievance procedure, which outlines the process and consequences for complaints.
  • Provide training so managers know how to help staff with specific needs (like disability or pregnancies).

Get expert advice on discrimination with Peninsula

From disability to gender reassignment, every employer must protect their staff from being discriminated against at work.

By eliminating unlawful treatment, your company benefits from building a healthy and safe working environment. However, if you neglect this, you could face losing staff, reputational damages, and tribunal claims.

Peninsula offers expert advice on discrimination in the workplace. Our team offers a 24/7 HR advice service which is available 365 days a year; with multi-lingual assistance and fully trained counsellors ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation for advice from one of our HR employment consultants. Call 0800 029 4382.

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