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Discrimination Law – What Every Employer Needs to Know

Age discrimination

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations, which came into force on 1 October 2006, aim to achieve equal treatment in employment and vocational training to eradicate discrimination on the grounds of age.

It is unlawful to make employment decisions based on a person’s age. Retirement ages below 65 are unlawful unless they can be objectively justified. This employment legislation also removes the upper age limits for unfair dismissal compensation rights and statutory redundancy payments. It is not age discrimination to have in place a compulsory retirement age of 65 or older but, if you do, new statutory procedures must be followed. These include giving employees at least six months’ notice of their intended date of retirement and notifying them that they have the right to request to continue working beyond either the default retirement age or the normal retirement age set by the employer. Employers have a duty to consider such a request. It is therefore important to be aware of forthcoming retirements and to have the necessary systems in place for notifying employees and dealing with requests to continue working.

Create an age profile of existing staff so that you can plan for retirements. This can also be used to aid your recruitment policy, rectifying any obvious age imbalance in the workforce, and to ensure that equal access is given to training and other opportunities.

Disability discrimination

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), it is unlawful for employers to treat a disabled person less favourably than they would a non-disabled person or someone without that particular disability, unless it can be demonstrated that the treatment in question is justified. The DDA also requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to the working conditions and physical working environment to cater for the special needs of disabled employees so that they are not placed at a substantial disadvantage. The definition of ‘disability’ is a bit wider than you would think.

Sex discrimination

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 outlaws discriminatory practices on grounds of sex in connection with recruitment, promotion, dismissal and access to benefits, services or facilities. In addition, there is a specific prohibition against harassment, sexual harassment and conduct of a sexual nature.

The Equal Pay Act 1970 gives protection against discriminatory terms and conditions of employment, particularly pay and eligibility for pension scheme membership, where the difference is on the grounds of sex.

Racial discrimination

The Race Relations Act 1976 makes it unlawful to discriminate against an employee because of their colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origins. Where a prima facie case is established that the employer’s conduct is discriminatory, it is then up to them to demonstrate that it is not.

Sometimes, what may appear to be a non-discriminatory requirement or condition, which applies equally to everyone, can be indirectly discriminatory. For example, this could be because it can only be met by a considerably smaller proportion of people from a particular racial group.

Sexual orientation discrimination

Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in an employment or vocational context is unlawful under The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.

The employment law status of a civil partner under the Regulations is comparable with that of a spouse. A civil partner who is treated less favourably than a married person in similar circumstances can bring a claim for sexual orientation discrimination.It is also unlawful to discriminate against transsexuals under the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999.

Religion or belief discrimination

Discrimination on grounds of religion or belief in an employment or vocational context is unlawful under The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.

It is important for employers to be aware of the requirements of an employee’s religion in order to ensure that employment policies and practices, even though they apply to all employees, do not put an individual member of staff at a particular disadvantage. In particular, failing to allow employees time off to observe religious holidays and festivals can result in indirect discrimination.

There is no upper limit to the amount that can be awarded to claimants in discrimination cases. In addition, recent employment law cases have seen employers found vicariously liable, under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, for bullying and harassment of one employee by another in the workplace where there is a sufficiently clear link between the work and the harassment.

It is important to have in place a strict equal treatment policy, but merely having a policy is not enough to comply with the law. Positive action must be taken to enforce it and to eliminate employee behaviour of a kind that could cause distress and anxiety to others. Any incidence of such behaviour must be dealt with at once to the satisfaction of the alleged victim.

With unlimited amounts that can be awarded for successful discrimination cases in the employment tribunal, every employer should make sure that their policies and practice a lot discriminate for you anyway. Employers should always seek, if necessary, legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in employment law discrimination cases.

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