There are few areas of employment law which are so pervasive or so wide-ranging as discrimination. Unlike a lot of rights, discrimination applies to a huge range of people, and will apply to people who you haven’t even met, and jobs you don’t even have.
It’s often misunderstood, and frequently misreported, so the information about discrimination can be confusing and unclear. Here at Bridge, we aim to cut through the confusion, and make sure that, whether you are a company or an individual, you can get a clear picture of how this law affects you.
Discrimination is the “from seed to plate” law – because it starts before any relationship begins and survives its end. If one of the 8 protected characteristics (see below) apply, then the protection of the Equality Act 2010 is considerable, wide-ranging and often takes people by surprise.
- Recruitment – if you are placing an advert, or considering applying for one, discrimination law applies to you. Adverts must not discriminate, and if you, as an applicant, feel that you were unable to apply for a role, or treated less favourably than others when applying, then you may have a discrimination claim.
- Interviews – all job applicants are protected by discrimination legislation, whether they are appointed or not.
- During the contract – everyone who works for someone else, on whatever basis, is protected from discrimination
- Workers, contractors, agency workers – it doesn’t matter what the relationship is, unlike some protection, discrimination applies to everyone
- Workplace rules and regulations – however equally these are applied, it’s still possible for a rule or practice at work to be discriminatory to a section of workers.
- Termination – the way that the working relationship ends, however long it has lasted, can result in a claim for discrimination
- References – even after the relationship has ended, it’s still possible for a discrimination claim to arise from the way references are given, or not given.
Whether you are a company or an individual, you need to understand how discrimination law applies and whether you can rely on it, or whether you need to apply it to others.
As an employee, you will be aware that there is a significant power imbalance between you and your employer. The law attempts to redress this balance in some situations, and discrimination is a significant protection for vulnerable employees against less favourable treatment.
It is limited – the Equality Act 2010 sets out the protection, and it only covers specific “protected characteristics” namely:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
If you believe you may be covered by one of the above characteristics, then your employer cannot treat you less favourably as a result of it, and, in the case of a disability, may need to make reasonable adjustments to your working area or conditions to ensure that you are not put at a disadvantage.
Things to be aware of:
- You don’t need to leave to pursue your discrimination rights;
- Discrimination protection starts from day 1 (and indeed before if you feel you were treated less favourably at the application stage);
- Discrimination applies to contractors, agency workers, as well as employees, so if your relationship with the company isn’t the standard employer/employee, you may still have a claim;
- Discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional;
- Discrimination doesn’t have to be aimed directly at you – if something that happens at work has the effect of putting you at a disadvantage because of one of the protected characteristics, you may still have a claim. For example, if your employer refuses to allow homeworking, and this impacts on you as you have childcare responsibilities and you are female, you may potentially have a claim of indirect sex discrimination;
- If you are pregnant, you don’t need to compare your treatment with other people – any less favourable treatment on the grounds of pregnancy is covered;
- If you are treated less favourably because of your association with someone who has a protected characteristic (for example, if you are treated less favourably because you are friendly with someone who is gay, then this can still be protected even if you personally are not);
- There is a specific offence of harassment – if you are subjected to unwanted conduct which has the effect of violating your dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you then this can be a claim under the act;
- Finally, you are protected from being subjected to less favourable treatment as a result of bringing a complaint or claim under the Act – so if you raised a grievance involving discrimination, your employer could not then label you a “troublemaker” and avoid promoting you, whether or not your claim was successful;
It is a complex area of law, and, as with all employment legislation, the timescales for bringing claims are short – usually 3 months from whenever the act in question took place. It’s really important to get advice early on. Our aim is to help you resolve your difficulties in a way that you are happy with. If preserving your on-going relationship with work is your top priority, then we will make this the aim of any action we advise. If you are seeking to leave your employment, then we will aim to help you do so in a way that preserves any claims you may have against them, and ideally brings them to a satisfactory resolution with the least possible difficulty and outlay.
Although discrimination claims can be costly, we are always willing to look at different funding methods with you, and to tailor our assistance to your budget.