Brushing up against the office blonde, picking on someone’s dreadlocks and dodgy remarks about a person’s unfortunate stutter, are all gladly things of the past. Or are they? Today, we will briefly focus on discrimination in the workplace.

Picking on people because they are somehow perceived to be different is obviously wrong and should be something that is kicked into touch from the workplace in the 21st century. But prejudice, like all things that develop, has evolved into a much subtler element of the workplace.

People are still castigated for being coloured, a woman can still earn less than her male counterpart doing the same job, disabled people are constantly reminded that they will not be productive in a work environment and all the other excuses used against people deemed by some to be easy targets, are plainly abuse.

Discrimination laws have come a long way from the heady days when verbal and physical abuse (predominantly perpetrated by men) was seen as the office culture. It was a way of letting off steam. The classic “it’s only a jokeā€¦haven’t you got a sense of humor?”, “get that chip off your shoulder” called for many people to accept abuse as normal office banter.

Recent changes and developments in legislation have rightfully outlawed this behavior, which protects those who are the subject of discrimination.

We take a look at some of the protections and decipher what they mean with a brief look at the relevant laws protecting people against office discrimination.

Employment Discrimination

In its broadest terms, discrimination in the workplace is when an employer or their employee treats you less favorably than anyone else. Employees are protected under the following acts Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Race Relations Act 1976 and Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Discrimination can manifest itself into 2 main types.

  • Direct

Direct discrimination tends to cover straightforward actions where an employee is obviously being treated less favorably because of their sex or race.

For instance, if a woman who obviously is more qualified than his/her counterpart but is turned down for promotion. You are treated less favorably because you are pregnant.

  • Indirect discrimination

This is a subtler version where it is not always obvious when the discrimination takes place, such as when there is an imposed requirement or condition, which results in discrimination against individuals on the grounds of gender or race. For instance:

  • Imposing an age requirement in a job advert.
  • Not promoting women who are pregnant
  • Setting tests and or asking for qualifications above the requirement for the post.

Employees are protected from discrimination by legislation broadly falling within the following areas:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Pay
  • Marital
  • Disability

Race, Sex and Marital Discrimination

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976 protect men and women against discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origins.

The law protects applicants and employees who may be a contract, self-employed, or part-time workers. The employer is ultimately responsible for the actions of their employees.

If any member of a staff discriminates against another, then it is both the staff member and the company who will be liable for not taking reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination.

Pay Discrimination

The Equal Pay Act of 1970 makes it unlawful to discriminate between men and women with regards to paying and other terms of employment. A person is entitled to equal treatment with someone of the opposite sex who is employed.

  • On work of the same or broadly similar nature.
  • On work of equal value.

Disability Discrimination

Under the Disability Discrimination Act, 1995 employees are protected against discrimination on the grounds of their disability and employers should take preventative and reasonable measures, so that a disabled person is not placed at a disadvantage.

Discrimination in the Workplace! Common Issues Surrounding Discrimination

Pay

A person doing the same job or of equal value to the work of another employee should expect to get the same pay, irrespective of the sex.

A recent report by the Equal Opportunities Commission’s Equal Pay Task Force found that women working full time can expect to take home between 70 to 80% less in pay than a male colleague doing the exact same job.

This report highlights the problems of the gender pay gap, which still perseveres. With modern businesses, the differences are not always in the pay packet. The difference can be attributed to many things, such as benefits affecting company policy leftover from years ago. These include:

  • Better perks and side benefits for male employees
  • Old pay scales

Sex

From heading the British Intelligent Services to running the unpredictable London Stock Exchange, women have come to play a more prominent part across all industry sectors.

That may be the case for the top end but there are still obstacles in the way for many women when it comes to achieving a management role. A recent Glasgow University research study showed that the number of women in management positions has not improved since the ’30s.

Many of the problems associated with the ‘glass ceiling’ are often to do with normal business practice. Many employers are simply unaware that they are discriminating against women. For instance, many company policies surrounding promotion and interviews are often set by men.

The criteria for what is expected by a man may be different from a woman, so in turn, disadvantaging any potential women seeking promotion or a management job.

Successful claims against the Police Force regarding overpay and sex discrimination have helped to transform their working and recruitment practices. More targeting of ethnic minorities and women is helping to build a police force more representative of its communities.

Disability

It is common to see job advertisements, which state that the company holds an “equal opportunities policy”. This is a good sign and one where, if the statement is to be believed, it means the company will only look at your ability to do the job and not look at your disabilities, race or sex as a barrier to the job.

Yet research by disability charity Leonard Cheshire found that only 14% of people worked with someone who was disabled with 40% of people who thought disabled people cannot do their job as well as a non-disabled person.

It is quite common to find larger organizations stating that they will guarantee an interview with a disabled person. Many able-bodied members of society think this is unfair and say this is reverse discrimination.

But the point is that disabled people still hardly get a look-in in the grand scale of things when applying for jobs generally. Able-bodied people will still be able to apply for more jobs and have a better chance of getting those jobs when compared to a disabled person.

It is obvious to say some jobs are just not suited to disabled people. This includes Firefighter, Fork-lift truck Driver, Paramedics, and Policeman, but even some of these roles can be carried out by some people depending on their actual disability.

It is easy to lump everyone with a disability card in the same stew but some people’s perceived hindrance may not even be visible to the eye. Many companies have a positive attitude towards employing people with a disability, claiming that disabled people are willing to put more effort into their job due to the harsh experiences they have been through.

They can empathize better with customers and are more likely to see a job through. But not all employers are the same. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, it is the responsibility of employers to make sure that reasonable measures have been taken to stop discrimination against disabled employees.

What rights do part-time employees have?

Employment Relations Act 1999, Part-time Employees (Prevention of Less Favorable Treatment) Regulations 2000, Sex Discrimination Act 1975 is a new provision to protect and give the same employment rights to part-time workers.

Many part-time workers are women often working unsociable hours around their family.

Options

You can seek to overturn a decision by the employer to one that you think is fair, but though some people do this, many would find the idea of working for a company that you had taken to court unbearable or downright awkward.

The most common outcome is to sue both your employer and any employee who discriminated against you for compensation. The compensation figure is more usually subject to what you would normally have received if you were not discriminated against.

In a situation that might seem like Catch 22, you must be looking for a new job whilst the tribunal is in process. If you manage to start a new job then earnings from this job will be deducted from the amount of compensation. However, if you fail to show that you are actively trying to find a new wage then your award may also be reduced.

Filing the Claim

The vast majority of claims are dismissed so it is important that you have strong evidence with a well-prepared claim. All claims must be filed within three months of the alleged complaint.

Who decides?

Employment tribunals assess the claims of each claimant. Employment tribunal caseloads have risen significantly over a number of years. Nearly 104,000 applicants submitted claims in the year 1999-2000, of which 25% went on to a tribunal hearing.

Time for Action

As with all legislation, it is one thing to identify someone breaking the law but another when it comes to implementing the rules. The office is a close community, at least in terms of people’s distance from each other. So any small ripple will make big noises elsewhere.

It is easy to feel intimidated and frightened as no one likes to ‘rock the boat’. But the only way to get rid of bad practice is to highlight it when you see it.

Many victims of discrimination do not complain because: –

  • They hope it will stop
  • They are embarrassed
  • They don’t want to be marked a troublemaker
  • They fear victimization
  • They don’t want to get anyone into trouble
  • They fear they will be told it was self-provoked
  • They don’t think they will be taken seriously
  • They don’t believe any action will be taken
  • They fear it won’t be believed
  • They fear it will make matters worse

But most of all, they don’t complain because the offender is in a more senior position to themselves and they fear for their job security.

-Thanks a lot for reading my article – Discrimination in the Workplace. Hopefully, you read and enjoy it! Have a good day!