Under The UK’s employment law, workplace discrimination is generally unlawful.
But when discrimination shows a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’, it’s called objective justification.
This term has the potential to cause drastic consequences. However, if it’s justified thoroughly, you could avoid further tribunal claims, legal fees, and business repercussions.
In this guide, we’ll explain what objective justification is, why it’s allowed, and how to apply it in the workplace.
What is objective justification?
Objective justifications are accepted workplace rules or policies that may otherwise be discrimination.
It allows you to treat an individual or group differently–if a fair or legal reason is proven. And these actions can be direct or indirectly demonstrated through workplace cultures or practices.
Why are objective justifications allowed?
Within employment law, objective justification is allowed under three circumstances:
“(1) It has a legitimate objective, such as a genuine business objective
(2) It is necessary to achieve that objective; and
(3) It is an appropriate way of achieving that objective.”
In simple terms, you need to show your ‘discriminative’ actions have a legitimate aim. These will be reasonable actions or changes needed to protect the health, safety, and welfare within the business.
Some examples of legitimate aims include:
- Health & safety: Like banning all types of jewellery–including religious ones–to prevent accidents.
- Business requirements: Like hiring female support officers to work in female refugee centres.
- Business efficiency: Like only hiring people physically fit enough to complete laborious jobs.
Laws on objective justification
The Equality Act (2010) prohibits unlawful treatment against a protected characteristic. This legal protection covers individuals and groups, as well as agency workers and contractors too.
But under the same act, there are certain situations that allow objective justification:
- Age discrimination.
- Disability discrimination.
- Indirect discrimination.
It doesn’t extend to other types of unlawful conduct, like harassment or victimisation.
Examples of objective justification
Here are objective justification examples within the workplace.
- Denying a job opportunity to someone because of their age: For example, not employing older workers due to health-related issues like strength, sight, or memory.
- Mistreating a whole group of people linked to a protected characteristic: For example, banning religious jewellery as it may lead to health & safety issues.
- Neglecting job opportunities to employees with disabilities–physical and mental: For example, not providing wheelchair access, as making one can be expensive and unfeasible.
How to apply objective justification in the workplace
For an employer to objectively justify their actions, they must show proportionate means for achieving a legitimate aim. Or else, they could face discrimination claims.
This is conducted through a four-stage test. You need to show:
- Was the aim sufficiently important to justify less favourable treatment?
- Is there a rational connection between the aim and the less favourable treatment?
- Are the means chosen no more than is necessary to achieve the aim?
- Has a fair balance been struck between the need to accomplish, and the detriment suffered?
Essentially, it is a matter of balance between the importance of the employer’s aim, and the seriousness of the impact on the employee (or potential employee).
This is something that can only be measured on a case-by-case basis.
Get expert advice on objective justification with Peninsula
In the end, whilst we’d like to have a blanket ban on all types of discrimination, there will be times when it’s unavoidable.
Here, it’s important to understand the legal rules and how to action objective justification appropriately. If not, you could end up ruining employee relations and business reputation.
Peninsula offers expert advice on objective justification and other conduct practices. Our clients get access to 24-hour HR advice helping them manage regulations – through legal and moral means.
Get in touch today or use our callback form to arrange for us to get in touch at a time that is convenient for you. Call us on 0800 028 2420