What Employers Need to Know about Discrimination at Work Claims

How small business owners can identify and prevent discrimination in the workplace

What Employers Need to Know about Discrimination at Work Claims

Maintaining a happy, diverse workforce should be the aim of every responsible employer, and this includes taking the necessary steps to prevent discrimination at work claims.

Every business should be aware of the Equality Act 2010, as this is the legislation that outlines what discrimination is and how you can implement practices to avoid it.

Many people only consider discrimination in the context of hiring employees. While it is true that this is a key area, discrimination can in fact occur at most stages of the employment process, which is why it is so vital to have systems in place to prevent it.

Protected characteristics

The Equality Act also lists a number of ‘protected characteristics’, such as age, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy and religion.

If an employee feels that they have been treated differently at any time for any of these reasons, your company could be faced with a discrimination claim.

When can discrimination occur?

As we have already stated, discrimination can happen at all stages of the employment process, and this includes job interviews, staff appointments, appraisals, promotions, contract renewals and terminations.

Having a robust equal opportunities policy in place at all times should help to prevent any issues from arising. In order to achieve this, it is important to realise that discrimination can take several forms.

Different kinds of discrimination

When most people consider what constitutes discrimination, they probably only consider the most common form, which is known as direct discrimination. This is where a person is treated differently because they possess one of the protected characteristics mentioned above.

For example, if you were conducting interviews and eliminated a candidate who was in a wheelchair on the basis that your office building did not have the required disabled access, this would be direct discrimination.

However, indirect discrimination is also commonly cited, and this is where an apparently standard working practice could, unwittingly or otherwise, exclude a particular group of people. For example, if a company insisted on all employees being clean shaven, this would discriminate against certain religious groups.

This can sometimes be countered by companies, for instance if the job involves working with food then beards could legitimately be banned for hygiene reasons.

Discrimination can also take the form of harassment, which is loosely defined as any unwanted contact that creates an unpleasant working atmosphere, or victimisation, where a staff member is targeted because they are in the process of making a complaint against the company.

What should you do if an employee makes a claim?

In the event that your company is faced with a discrimination claim, it is important to call an experienced solicitor right away. They will explore every aspect of the case to help you put together a robust defence. They should be able to either help you negotiate a settlement agreement or represent you at an employment tribunal.

Of course, you don’t have to wait until a claim is made to contact a solicitor. Many are happy to offer you advice on your company practices in order to ensure they guard against this type of claim.

Orbis Solicitors is an experienced law firm based in Greater Manchester

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