Clarkslegal LLP - Solicitors in Reading and London

Employment

Discrimination Claims

Equality and Discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 consolidated a huge raft of UK discrimination laws. It imposes various obligations on employers as well as giving job applicants and workers a variety of rights. Above all, if you are an employer, you must ensure that the workplace operates in accordance with the Equality Act 2010.

Under the Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against people at work because of nine protected areas, which the Act calls ‘protected characteristics’:

We advise clients regularly on the minefield of discrimination legislation, from the recruitment process right through to after termination. These include issues such as harassment during employment, all forms of discrimination on the grounds of age, sex, race and other protected characteristics, equal pay and the various forms of disability discrimination including employer’s responsibilities around reasonable adjustments. We also provide bespoke training and policies to avoid discrimination and to assist clients with defending discrimination claims. 

Key Points

An employee who believes they have been discriminated against must connect this treatment to one or more of the nine protected characteristics listed above.

Employees who believe they have been subjected to discrimination, or who believe they have witnessed discrimination in the workplace, should feel confident in raising the matter with their employer and be assured it will be taken seriously.

The Equality Act does make certain exemptions and exceptions where in some limited situations treating employees and job applicants less favourably can be lawful. For example, in certain and rare circumstances, it may be lawful for an employer to specify that applicants for a job must have a protected characteristic under the Act.

Both employers and their employees can be held responsible and liable for their actions where they discriminate.

To effectively stay within the law, promote equality and prevent discrimination, an employer should have a policy in place so all employees know what is acceptable and expected of them as individuals and as part of the organisation.

There are different ways to handle concerns or complaints about discrimination, options can include policy changes, disciplinary action and mediation. However, if the complaint is lodged by the employee as a grievance, the employer must follow certain minimum procedures set out in the Acas Discipline and grievance - Acas Code of Practice.

Business case for encouraging equality and preventing discrimination

  • Encouraging greater awareness and understanding of the different protected characteristics, alongside tackling discrimination, can help to reduce the chance of complaints, disciplinary action or an employment tribunal claim - and avoid the costs and disruption to the organisation.
  • Improve team spirit - an employee or groups of employees who are being discriminated against are likely to be unhappy, less productive and de-motivated, and this can have a negative impact on the whole workforce.
  • Attract, motivate and retain staff, and enhance an organisation's reputation as an employer. If staff who have been discriminated against feel undervalued or 'forced out' and leave, the organisation will run up the costs of recruiting, training and settling in new staff when its reputation as both a business and employer may be damaged.

Additional factors organisations should take into account include.

  • The UK workforce is changing. For example, more people are continuing to work instead of retiring, women now make up almost half the workforce, around one in ten of the UK working age population are from an ethnic minority, while one in four primary school children are from an ethnic minority.
  • Having staff at all levels from a wide range of backgrounds and skills can help develop a working environment producing ideas and solutions that might not come from a smaller array of diverse groups. A diverse workforce can also help an organisation better understand and meet diverse customer expectations.