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The Law and Discrimination in the Workplace

By: Thomas Muller - Updated: 18 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Law Employment Law Discrimination

Discrimination is an unsavoury and endemic aspect of working life and laws are in place to protect those employees who feel they are the subject of certain types of unfair prejudice.

Upholding Workers Rights for Equality

Being paid less solely because you are female, being denied promotional opportunities because you are in a wheelchair, being treated differently because you are older are all classic examples of discrimination in the workplace. It is a widespread and ingrained problem that has prompted the law to step in to protect workers rights to expect fair treatment from their employers.

Laws are in place to promote equal opportunities in the workplace so that people are employed, paid, trained and promoted solely because of the skills and abilities and how they carry out the work. You may be able to take action against your employer for unlawful discrimination if they treat you unfairly because of your:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Ethnic group
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Work contract – if you are part-time or fixed contract staff member for example

Direct and Indirect Discrimination

Sometimes discrimination can be blatant such as if you were treated worse than someone else because of your nationality or skin colour. This is direct discrimination. But it’s not always so obvious. A job description might unjustly limit the application opportunities for males, for example. This is indirect discrimination.

Racial Discrimination and Employment Law

With a recent report highlighting how black and Asian women are finding it harder to find work or win a promotion than their white counterparts, racial discrimination is still an ingrained problem in the UK workplace. The Race Relations Act is there to help turn the tide by making it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the grounds of race.

The employer must make sure most jobs and training schemes are occupied by workers of any race, with the exception of roles such as modelling, acting or establishments such as restaurants where a certain race is required to add authenticity. All races should also expect the same terms in their contract and be allowed the same promotion and training opportunities.

Sexual Discrimination and Employment Law

Despite the huge advances in sexual equality over the last 30 years, discrimination between the sexes at work is still rife, particularly as many workplaces are still designed for an age when women stayed at home.

However, not only do the sex discrimination laws protect those employees persecuted just because of their gender but also those that are treated differently because they are married, pregnant or have had gender reassignment.

Disability Discrimination

Since 1995 it has been against the law to treat anyone with disabilities less favourably than someone else, unless there is justification that the individual is less suitable for a task because of their disability. The term disability is not confined to members of staff with a physical ailment but also those suffering from illness. There have been, for instance, many recent cases whereby women with breast cancer have suffered discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Sexuality Discrimination

2003 saw lesbian and gay workers fall under the protection of discrimination law when the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) act was passed. The legislation outlaws direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation motivated by the sexual orientation of a member of staff. Protection also exists for those employees who suffer from discrimination because they associate with staff members of a particular sexuality.

Age Discrimination

The most recent law imposed relating to discrimination in the workplace was that came into force in 2006 protecting those employees that are denied fair consideration for employment, promotion, benefits or training because they are either considered too old or too young.

Although perhaps ageism doesn’t immediately spring to mind when considering discrimination it is a large problem and despite the recent law is still endemic in the workplace. A recent survey found that a third of workers were aware of an older member of staff getting paid more than someone younger for performing the same job, whilst over a quarter were aware of employers choosing specific aged job candidates to ensure a ‘good fit’ with the rest of the team.

Discrimination due to Religion or Belief

Discrimination against a member of staff because of their religion or beliefs has been against the law since 2003. In addition to direct and indirect discrimination, the regulations also prohibit harassment and victimisation.


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