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Preventing discrimination in the workplace
Women are now more likely to face discrimination on their return from maternity leave when compared to a decade ago, according to a recent study undertaken by the Government and the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.
One in nine women had been dismissed, made redundant or treated poorly due to their pregnancy, meaning an average of 54,000 new mothers lose their jobs in the UK every year due to discrimination.
I'm sure the statistics surprise many, but they do suggest that the UK has a long way to go in terms of tackling discrimination in the workplace.
The Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”) prohibits discrimination on grounds of a person’s protected characteristic. Protected characteristics covered by the Act include sex, race, age, pregnancy and maternity, religion and belief, sexual orientation and disability.
There are different forms of discrimination and some, such as treating someone less favourably because of the colour of their skin or sexually harassing a colleague or making offensive jokes, that are not that obvious.
For example, an employer may have in place a provision, criterion or practice which places a person (and a group of people who share their protected characteristic) at a disadvantage, i.e. requiring a candidate for a job to have ten years driving experience would prevent those aged between 17-26 from applying. Unless the criteria can be justified, this group of people will have been discriminated against on grounds of age.
There are complications also with the possibility of discriminating against someone because of a perceived protected characteristic or because they are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic.
Clearly this area of employment legislation is complex. So what can employers do?
- Understand what discrimination is yourself
- Ensure you have a robust equal opportunities and anti-bullying/harassment policy
- Apply the policies and tackle unacceptable behaviour when they arise
- Implement training and awareness sessions for your workforce
ACAS have recently issued three new guides on discrimination:
- Equality and Discrimination: Understand the basics
- Prevent Discrimination: Support Equality
- Discrimination: What to do if it happens
As ever, these are useful guides, easy reading and great for helping you to deliver training to your staff. The guides can be accessed here.
Oliver McCann, Employment Partner, Napthens LLP – QCS Expert Employment Law Contributor