How Employers Can Handle Discrimination at Work

By Andrew Willis
30 Nov 2018

Despite progress in stamping out workplace discrimination, it’s still a part of the modern business world.

One reason why is a misunderstanding of discrimination and how it applies to the workplace.

In this guide, we’ll explain how you apply it to your business and the laws you need to keep in mind.

What's discrimination at work?

Discrimination is the preferential treatment of a particular group of people over another, or treating an employee unfairly because of who they are.  

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination relating to the following protected characteristics:

  1. Age.
  2. Disability.
  3. Gender reassignment.
  4. Marriage or civil partnership.
  5. Pregnancy and maternity.
  6. Race.
  7. Religion or belief.
  8. Sex.
  9. Sexual orientation.

However, identifying discrimination in the workplace when it happens is often the issue many employers fail to notice.

Here are some of the main types of discrimination at work, as stated by employees:

Sexual discrimination at work

Firstly, let’s address a common myth: sex discrimination applies to men just as much as it applies to women. Similarly, it is possible for a woman to sexually discriminate against a woman, and a man to discriminate against a man.

Direct sexual discrimination is when you treat an individual less favourably due to their sex.

Indirect sexual discrimination occurs when a rule, policy or procedure that applies to everyone in the workplace, regardless of their sex, disadvantages members of a certain sex.

An example of indirect discrimination is asking all employees to be available to work full-time, as it might disadvantage women who are more likely to have caring responsibilities.

Sexual harassment at work is unlawful behaviour, and it is also gross misconduct, so you should deal with it in the appropriate manner. 

Age discrimination at work

Similar to sexual discrimination, age discrimination can either be direct or indirect and is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010.

Direct age discrimination is when an individual receives less favourable treatment due to their age, perceived age, or the age of another person they’re associated with.

Indirect discrimination occurs when a certain restriction that applies to all employees puts employees of a certain age at a disadvantage.

An example of this is requiring all employees to have a post-graduate degree if they want to earn a promotion. Certain age groups are less likely to have this qualification.

What's equality and diversity?

All employees have equal opportunities in the workplace regardless of their protected characteristics including sex, age, race, sexual orientation or religion.

The Equality Act 2010 supports this by enforcing employment rights and responsibilities.

The law protects employees from discrimination relating to:

  • Terms and conditions.
  • Pay and benefits.
  • Promotion and transfer.

However, there are some employer rights and responsibilities that allow some forms of discrimination. Examples of these are:

  • Religious organisations recruiting members of their own faith.
  • Charitable organisations for women hiring only women.
  • Recruiting an individual of a certain age group to portray a character of a particular age on stage or in a TV/film production.

Such examples allow discrimination as they are a necessity for the role and are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, such as authenticity or privacy and dignity.

If you employ a manager who is deeply religious, for example, but he or she refuses to hire a new recruit due to sexual orientation, that is discrimination. This is so long as the organisation isn’t religious and they don’t have a requirement for completing roles with someone of the same religion. 

But individual belief does not make the employer exempt from a discrimination claim.

Expert Support

For support with a discrimination in the workplace, or any other HR or employment law issue, speak to a Croner expert on 01455 858 132

About the Author

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is the senior manager of the Litigation and Employment Department and assumes additional responsibility for managing Croner’s office based telephone HR advisory teams, who specialise in employment law, HR and commercial legal advice for small & large organisations across the United Kingdom.





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