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Unwittingly triggering discrimination at work claims

View profile for Gillian Markland
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Unwittingly triggering discrimination at work claims

Equal opportunities legislation was introduced to provide a level playing field for everyone, so that every individual has the same opportunity for employment, training, pay and development as any other, irrespective of their circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of age, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, disability and race, amongst other grounds, is unlawful.

Employers can get unwittingly caught out by equal opportunities legislation

Although employers are generally much more aware of their responsibilities regarding equal opportunities legislation, we continue to come across situations where employers face claims of unlawful discrimination - often because they have not realised that particular actions have the potential to trigger such claims.

Some practices are more obvious examples of unlawful discrimination

Even if claims are subsequently defended successfully, the associated management distraction and potential publicity can impose a significant burden, particularly on smaller businesses. So it makes sense to be aware of the potential areas where problems can occur for unwary employers. Some discriminatory practices are obvious – for example using insulting words or behaviour towards another employee or by including words such as ‘young’ or ‘experienced’ in an advertisement.

Other practices may less obviously be example of unlawful discrimination

However, there are other practices that may not be so obvious examples of unlawful discrimination and which could catch employers out. One such is including sickness absences as one of the criteria when selecting employees for redundancy, if such absences were as a result of pregnancy or related to a disability.

Genuine reasons for requiring a particular person for a role still need clear justification

Of course, there may be genuine occupational reasons for requiring a particular person for a role. An example might be the requirement for a personal carer to be of a particular gender due to privacy or decency requirements. However, it is important to be able to justify these reasons as a potential employee could make a claim for discrimination if the reasons are not clear and robust.

If in doubt, seek professional advice

The point we are highlighting is that it is not always obvious whether a practice or decision has the potential to trigger a claim of unlawful discrimination at work. As part of our work we come across many, varied situations and this helps us to build up an excellent working knowledge of the kinds of practices that are potential triggers to unwelcome claims. We can work with you to identify and modify practices, ensure that line managers have a better understanding of potential pitfalls and, where the need arises, help you defend your business if you face potential claims.

Contact our specialist Employment Law Team to find out how we can help.

Our articles are intended for general information purposes only and are not a substitute for professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. We are always very happy to discuss any plans, issues or concerns you may have and to clarify how we might be able to help. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.