Discrimination in the Workplace: What does it mean?

When discrimination in the workplace is talked about, it refers to being treated unfairly because of who you are. But, as you can imagine, with regard to the law that definition is a bit more specific and looks at unfair treatment as a result of these features:

• Age
• Disability
• Gender reassignment
• Marriage and civil partnership
• Pregnancy and maternity
• Race
• Religion or belief
• Sex
• Sexual orientation.

In the eyes of the law, these are known as ‘protected characteristics’.

Direct and indirect discrimination

There are many types of discrimination, but as whole discrimination in the workplace is split into two categories; direct or indirect. Direct discrimination occurs when your employer treats you less favourably because of your protected characteristics. Indirect discrimination occurs when, even though you’re treated in the same way as others as a result of your employer’s practices, policies or rules, this treatment actually has a disadvantageous effect on you. This can occur, for example, as a result of your religion or your gender.

Examples of when discrimination in the workplace can occur

1. When you’re applying for a job

If you apply for a job, the prospective employer cannot allow any protected characteristics to influence their selection process, application process, or interview process. They also cannot allow such characteristics to influence the pay, the working hours, or the benefits package they offer. And they certainly cannot decide whether to offer you, or not to offer you, the job simply because of your characteristics.

2. When you’re an employee

Once you are working for an employer, they are not allowed to discriminate against you with respect to the terms of your contract, your opportunities for promotion, or your opportunities to receive training. And they certainly cannot dismiss you purely on the basis of your characteristics.

Agency workers are also protected from discrimination, but we will be writing an article specifically on that in the near future.

3. Putting you at a disadvantage

Bullying at work because of your gender, for example, that causes you distress or makes you feel intimidated, is harassment that is unlawful. If you make a complaint and your manager does nothing about it and the bullying continues… this could mean you are suffering from discrimination.

Equally so, if you put in a complaint and you are punished or treated badly as a result, this victimisation is unacceptable too.

Discrimination is not just about the office

Your employer has a duty to protect you from discrimination in the workplace, of course, but this also extends to other work-related situations. Examples could be conferences and exhibitions, business trips, and even work-related social events.

If you think you are suffering from discrimination and would like to find out more, please do give us a call. The sooner these things are tackled at work, the sooner you can get on with enjoying your job and your career!


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