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Discrimination in the workplace

Discrimination at work

Discrimination at work happens when an individual or group is treated in a different manner to others around them, in either a more favourable or unfavourable way. When discrimination at work exists, it is normally done in a markedly negative way which displays somebody being treated differently or far less favourably from their work colleagues which in turn puts them at a disadvantage caused by this discrimination. Discrimination is prohibited in UK law under the Equality Act 2010 on the following grounds:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Sex (gender)
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Religious or Philosophical Belief

In other words, if an individual is exposed to a detriment which stems from one or more of the grounds listed above, it may well be illegal behaviour. Two types of discrimination exist; indirect and direct discrimination. We can help you in both cases.

What is direct discrimination and how can I prove it?

If you want to take action about direct discrimination you need to show that you have been treated differently and worse than someone else because of your protected characteristic.

Direct discrimination occurs where, for example, a person is treated in a different way to their colleagues at work as a result of a prohibited reason e.g. their ethnicity, race, sex, sexual orientation, age, beliefs, marital status, religion or nationality. An example of direct sex discrimination would be if a female employee is paid less by a company than a male colleague for performing exactly the same role. In addition, the woman may also be entitled to put in a claim under the Equal Pay Act 1972.

So as to have a strong case, you will need to collect evidence and bring them to us. The following are useful evidence if you want to make a direct discrimination claim:

  • a description of what happened in chronological order, when it happened, where it happened and who was there,
  • a description of how people in your situation should normally be treated. Try to establish the reasons why you were treated differently to this – could there be other non-discriminatory reasons for your treatment?
  • examples of situations where other staff members have been treated more favourably than you in the same or similar circumstances. For each of them, find out as much as you can about how they were treated and why you think they were treated better,
  • information on the number of people who work in your department or team and how many are in the same position as you.

What is indirect discrimination at work and how can I prove it?

Indirect discrimination exists where an employer imposes a restriction or policy which adversely affects a specific group, putting an employee at a disadvantage to their work colleagues.

Again, so as to have a strong case, you will need to collect evidence and bring them to us. The following are useful evidence for an indirect discrimination claim:

  • information on the policy, practice or rule which disadvantages you. This could be – for example, a particular dress code or a requirement to work full-time or evenings.
  • information on the group which is particularly disadvantaged by the policy, practice or rule and to which you belong – for example, women
  • information on the disadvantage caused to the group when trying to comply with the policy, practice or rule – you may need statistical or expert information to show how your group is particularly disadvantaged compared to people who don’t share your protected characteristic.
  • statistical evidence your employer has about staff in your position who can’t meet the rule – how does this compare to staff without your protected characteristic?
  • evidence that your particular circumstances mean that you are disadvantaged. For example, if you are a woman and you cannot comply with a requirement to work evenings because you have children then you should provide evidence to show how this affects you. It may be that you can’t get childcare because your local nurseries aren’t open after 6pm and you don’t have family that live locally.
  • your employer’s explanation as to why the policy, practice or rule is used and what situations it is used in. It is also useful to find out when it was last reviewed and if there have been any consultations about it. This is so you can try to find out if your employer can objectively justify the policy, practice or rule.
  • your employer’s explanation as to why the policy, practice or rule was applied in this way rather than being adjusted to minimise the disadvantage to you.

Legal routes to argue discrimination at work

If you are sacked on discriminatory grounds, you might be able to bring about an unfair dismissal claim as well as a claim for discrimination.

It is important to note that you could also make a claim for harassment or bullying on the above grounds, please see our articles on that point here.  We can assist you in any case.

If you feel that in the workplace, you may be a victim of discrimination, please contact us right away on 020 8579 1345.


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