employment discrimination

Walking the Discrimination Tightrope in Business

Linkilaw Employee Regulations

Not only is discrimination a ‘hot topic,’ but it brings to mind dozens of different interpretations; depending on the day, the context, one’s culture and personal beliefs. It’s a word which strikes terror in the hearts of some, and revulsion in the minds of those disturbed by its very existence. Is it any wonder that our workplaces could also be influenced by the discriminatory undercurrents of our society?

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Though people and politics will seldom agree, when it comes to these issues it’s probably a blessing that lawmakers were able to walk the thin line between outrage and apathy. Legislation is by its very nature dispassionate at times, but by that very token it does allows cooler heads to prevail. And, in this case they have.

With Equality Act 2010, the UK took a hardy stance on discrimination. Previous insufficient and uncertain anti-discrimination business laws were replaced by this one Act, resulting in greater clarity for employers and enforceable protection for workers.

Which brings us to the defining parameters every employer must now take into consideration:

Protected Characteristics

It is against the law to discriminate against any person due to their:

  • Disability – physical or mental impairment with substantial and long term effect on abilities to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
  • Gender reassignment – transition from one gender to another
  • Pregnancy and maternity – or having children
  • Race – including colour, ethnic or national origin
  • Religion and belief – or lack thereof
  • Age – ageism in employment, education and training
  • Sex – male or female gender
  • Sexual orientation – lifestyle or preference
  • Marriage or civil partner status

Your workers are also legally protected from discrimination if they take a ‘positive action’ to voluntarily assist a person with a protected characteristic who is at a disadvantage.

Company Policy on Equality and Diversity

As an employer, the policies you put into place will reflect your commitment to fair opportunities across the board. In effect, you will be promising to extend all employees and candidates equal consideration when they are qualified for the positions at hand.

Ideally, your objectives should include the following principles:

  • Protection for your workers from discrimination
  • Promotion of diversity in your company’s workforce
  • Responsiveness to changes in work patterns and demographics; such as use of flex hours

An equality policy should eliminate discrimination from these situations:

  • Candidate selection and recruitment
  • Salary and benefits determination
  • Employment terms
  • Training and development
  • Promotion or incentive opportunities
  • Disciplinary actions and dismissal
  • Grievances on behalf of workers
  • Trade union membership, or lack thereof

Assessing Your Equality Practices

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According to ACAS (the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), the majority of workplaces now have a policy on equal opportunities or managing diversity in place. However, business owners should continue to review their existing policies, and analyse how they are working ‘in practice’ – taking actions as needed to address any inequities.

You might try out the ACAS online tool, Model Workplace Survey, which allows you to evaluate your ‘people management’ model and make improvements accordingly. More than 25% of those surveyed have commented that it made them aware of legal areas in which they were non-compliant. Over 50% changed their practices in the work place due to findings from their completed surveys.

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