Do you Really Know What Discrimination is?


Discrimination can sometimes be difficult to spot. Many people experience unfair treatment at work that can make them feel isolated, victimised or left out. They perhaps don't realise that what they are being subjected to may be a form of discrimination.

Discrimination in the Workplace

Not all unfair treatment is against the law. For a discrimination claim, the treatment must be related in some way to one of the specified protected characteristics, for example: race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief.

Could you spot the discrimination?

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination takes place when a person is treated less favourably than others because of a protected characteristic.

Sophie works in IT and she is the only woman in her team. She starts to notice that her team exclude her from informal meetings and team lunches. She feels left out and isolated, and thinks this could be because she is the only woman in the office.

People often feel unhappy at work and may not realise that what they are experiencing could be classed as discrimination. In Sophie's case, she may be left out of activities because of her sex, which is a protected characteristic. If Sophie is being discriminated at work because of her protected characteristic, she could be a victim of sex discrimination.

She would need to show that she is being left out because she is a woman rather than for some other reason.

Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination is where a provision, rule, policy or practice that applies to all people puts people with a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage.

John's employer has decided that all staff must start working for a few hours on Saturdays. This is a problem for John as he is Jewish and cannot work on Saturdays as he observes Sabbath.

This could be indirect discrimination on grounds of religion as this is a rule that applies neutrally to all employees, but is detrimental to John because of his religious beliefs.

Indirect discrimination can however be justified if the employer can show that the measure is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, if the employer can show it is in the interests of health and safety, necessary for the requirements of the business, or necessary to make a profit, then the rule may be justified.

Bullying and Harassment

Harassment at work can be various kinds of unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic or of a sexual nature, including unwanted attention, being bullied and singled out.

Jane has been asked on a couple of occasions to go on a date with a colleague at work and she let her colleague know that she wasn't interested. Her colleague has since started leaving flowers on her desk. Jane doesn't want this attention and feels embarrassed, humiliated and uncomfortable.

ACAS, who work to promote employment relations, provide examples of what can be classed as bullying and harassment. Even behaviour from a colleague like standing too close can be harassment in the form of an unwanted sexual advance. Spreading malicious rumours, and overbearing supervision are other examples.

Recently investment banker Svetlana Lokhova was awarded £3 million in compensation in a sexual harassment case. She was called malicious names and it was argued that she was only hired because she was a woman.

Becoming More Difficult to Make a Claim

Following the introduction of employment tribunal fees, many people struggle to bring a case against their employer if they have been a victim of discrimination at work.

Aneeqa Ali, our solicitor specialising in employment law, comments:

"Sadly, the introduction of employment tribunal fees are affecting some of the most vulnerable workers. Employees who work part time on low wages and have dependants to take care of need help the most, and are bearing the brunt of these fees. Individuals who are being treated unfairly need help but are unable to afford the fees to bring claims. At Simpson Millar LLP we're continuing to campaign for the abolition of employment tribunal fees."

Getting Help

Being a victim of discrimination can not only be frustrating and upsetting, but it can seriously hinder your ability to do your job. If you feel you are being discriminated against or harassed at work it, you should seek legal advice.

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