Discrimination in the Workplace for Employer

Employers are increasingly encountering complaints of unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace. These can include informal complaints, formal grievances as well as Employment Tribunal proceedings. We have worked with a range of employers from different industry sectors including financial services, retail, logistics, energy, pharmaceuticals and public authorities. We are used to dealing with a variety of business structures including companies, partnerships, schools and sole traders.

We are also highly experienced at dealing with internal grievance investigations and claims in the Employment Tribunals. These cover all aspects of discrimination, bullying and harassment, failure to make reasonable adjustments, and victimisation. We have also worked with employers on introducing measures to prevent discrimination claims in the workplace. We can advise you if proceedings are issued against you and we can also represent you during Employment Tribunal proceedings.

Helping Employers to avoid Discrimination Claims

Allegations of discrimination and harassment can create bad publicity, take up a lot of time and lead to expensive legal action. It is always in the best interests of everyone involved to avoid a discrimination claim. Our commercial and pragmatic advice will help your business reduce the risk, costs, stress and management time involved with staff issues. Some of the services that we offer include:

  • Preparing for disciplinary, grievance, and appeal hearings.
  • Drafting effective workplace equality and diversity policies.
  • Support with drawing up an effective complaints procedure which can be used if an employee or a worker wishes to make a discrimination complaint.
  • Discrimination training for a more inclusive workplace and culture.
  • Advice in relation to reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and workers.
  • Advice on using mediation to resolve matters and avoid litigation and supporting clients through the ACAS Early Conciliation process.

What is Considered Discrimination in the Workplace?

Direct discrimination occurs when somebody is treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic (see list below), for example if you are not offered a job because of your sexual orientation.

Indirect discrimination occurs where a practice, policy or rule is applied to everyone in the same way, but it has a worse effect on a group of people with a particular protected characteristic than on others. The Equality Act 2010 talks about it putting them at a particular disadvantage. An individual member of the group who is disadvantaged by the practice, policy or rule can bring a claim. For example, if an employer requires all employees to work until 6pm every evening, this may disadvantage women who tend to have more childcare responsibilities than men.  A woman with young children who is required to work until 6pm could bring a claim, arguing that she has suffered indirect sex discrimination. To defend the claim, the employer would need to be able to show that it has a real business need justifying the particular practice, policy or rule and that it could not be achieved in a less discriminatory way. This is known in legal terms as the employer having to show objective justification.

Harassment occurs where, for example, a person is made to feel upset, humiliated or intimidated by the behaviour of one or more of their colleagues and the behaviour is related to a protected characteristic. Examples include spreading rumours about someone’s sexuality, excluding someone from group activities because they are disabled and engaging in racist or sexist banter.

Sexual Harassment occurs where, for example, a person is made to feel intimidated, humiliated, upset or offended due to a colleague engaging in conduct of a sexual nature, for example touching them inappropriately, making sexual advances or asking them questions about their sex life. 

Victimisation occurs where a person suffers detrimental treatment because they have made a discrimination or harassment complaint or brought a discrimination or harassment claim or because they have helped someone else to do so.

Discrimination arising from disability occurs where somebody is treated unfavourably because of something connected to their disability. For example, a disabled employee who has had a lot of time off work for disability-related reasons is dismissed because of their unacceptable level of sickness absence.  An employer can defend the claim if it can show that the unfavourable treatment is objectively justified by a real business need and this could not be achieved in a less discriminatory way. An employer will not be liable if it can show that it did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to know that the employee had the disability. 

Failure to make reasonable adjustments (for a disabled person) occurs where a practice, policy or rule applied by the employer places a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to someone who is not disabled, and the employer fails to take reasonable steps to avoid the disadvantage.

Workplace Anti-discrimination Legislation

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination at work and in wider society. It replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single piece of legislation, making the law easier to understand and strengthening protection in some areas. Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of a protected characteristic. The nine protected characteristics are as follows:

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

 Legislation protects

  • Job applicants and employees
  • Contract workers, including agency workers
  • Police officers and applicants to join the police
  • Partners and those seeking partnership in a firm (including an LLP)
  • Barristers and trainee advocates

How we will help

Our specialist solicitors can advise on best practice with regards to employment discrimination law. We can help you create and implement an effective equality and diversity policy and train your managers in employment discrimination law. We also help with alleged cases of discrimination in the workplace. Our lawyers and our team of HR consultants can help you handle a fair investigation, disciplinary or grievance process. We also offer services from trained mediators to try and resolve the matter without having to face costly and time-consuming Tribunal proceedings.

If proceedings are issued against you or your company, we can defend these proceedings and, if necessary, represent you at the Tribunal. For further information or if you require any assistance with a discrimination issue that has arisen in the workplace contact, please contact us.