Equal opportunities and discrimination

A big worry for any business can be the vast array of equal opportunity and anti-discrimination legislation. However, in practice, honest and fair employers who adhere to the spirit and intent of the regulations have little to fear.

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What is workplace discrimination law?

Workplace discrimination law relates to discrimination arising from workplace issues including: dismissal, employment terms and conditions, pay and benefits, promotion and transfer opportunities, training, recruitment, redundancy.

What does the law protect?

Workplace discrimination laws protect job applicants, current and former employees and non-employee workers or consultants. There are certain characteristics which are covered by discrimination regulations (known as 'protected characteristics'). These are: sex, race, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marital or civil partner status, religion or belief, and age.

What is prohibited under discrimination law?

The prohibited behaviours are:

  • direct discrimination - less favourable treatment based directly on the protected characteristic (eg 'we prefer to recruit over 30s'). There is rarely a legal defence once direct discrimination is proved
  • indirect discrimination - where a set of criteria or requirement is applied equally but disadvantages a protected group (eg a requirement to work full time indirectly discriminates against women, due to child-care). Indirect discrimination is lawful if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim
  • harassment - unwanted conduct violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment and
  • victimisation - detrimental treatment in response to making or supporting a discrimination claim (whether or not the claim is correct)

What can happen if something goes wrong

The employer and implicated individuals can be sued and claims are uncappedA carefully thought out equal opportunities policy can help protect you in the event of claims.

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