Equality and diversity promotes equality, giving individuals the opportunity to achieve their potential free from discrimination.

Race

Employees are protected during their employment and, indeed, on termination of their employment, against unfair treatment on racial grounds. Racial grounds include grounds of colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins.

The legislation affords protection against direct racial discrimination, indirect racial discrimination or discrimination by way of victimisation.

There are a number of general exceptions from liability under the legislation and employers also have the ability to argue that the employment of an individual of a particular race constitutes a genuine occupational qualification e.g. a woman in a woman's refuge.

During employment, employees can argue unfair treatment in respect of any aspect of their terms and conditions of employment. A common area is equality of opportunity for promotion within the business, but there is a case law to cover almost every aspect of the employment contract and alleged unlawful discrimination in relation to the benefits afforded to different racial groups by employers.

Employees who complain of racial discrimination can complain to an Employment Tribunal during their employment.

The remedies for unfair treatment include injury to feelings but in more serious cases, employees can obtain, what are termed, aggravated damages or exemplary damages. There is no upper limit on the awards available to an Employment Tribunal of cases in racial discrimination. Employers are expected to have in place a clearly stated policy on equal opportunities generally and in particular, how they approach the treatment at work of different racial groups. This policy is particularly important in demonstrating how seriously the employer treats the issue of the avoidance of discrimination.

Employees can also ask for answers to a range of questions relating to the allegation of racial discrimination via a questionnaire. Employer's replies to the questionnaire do have evidential value and it is, therefore, essential that all replies are carefully and thoroughly constructed, which employers are encourage to take specific advice and assistance with.

Religion and belief

Discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief became unlawful in relation to employment and vocational training from the 2nd December 2003. Legislation had existed in Northern Ireland since the Fair Employment Act 1976.

As with other discrimination areas the regulations prohibit direct and indirect discrimination as well as victimisation and harassment by reason of any 'religion, religious belief, or similar philosophical belief'.

Whilst there is nothing in the regulations that requires any specific provisions to be made to accommodate any particular religious belief, employers need to be mindful of the particular needs of religious and other groups.

Employees should not be treated less favourably because of their religion or belief nor should they be disadvantaged by any policy at work. Employees should not be subject to any from of unwanted bullying or comments because of their faith or belief.

The Regulations do not set out any formal definition of the terms. With most of the recognised religions it is possible to identify particular faith beliefs but with the philosophical area you would need to look for some form of collective belief or some belief that affects an individual's view of life.

As with any other discrimination issue an employee has the right to claim before a Tribunal and the Tribunal has the power to make a compensatory award without any limit.

Disability

The legislation is now well established to protect employees against being afforded treatment, by an employer, which is less favourable than the employer would treat other people, for reasons related to the person's disability and where the different treatment cannot be justified.

Such unfair treatment cannot be justified, if, by making a reasonable adjustment the employer could remove the reason for the unfair treatment. A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment which has substantial and long term adverse impact on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

This concept is radically different to the previously understood description of a disabled person. The legislation will now encompass many more different types of impairment and employers are encouraged to be extremely cautious in handling situations where the employees have an impairment, which is covered by the Act.

Reasonable adjustments involve, any step or steps that an employer could reasonably be expected to take to prevent work arrangements from putting a disabled person at a disadvantage, in comparison with an employee who is non-disabled.

Employees who consider that they have been unfairly discriminated against on the grounds of their disability can apply to an Employment Tribunal for a remedy.

There is no qualifying service necessary to bring an application of this nature before a Tribunal.

Awards for discrimination on the grounds of disability have no upper limit in the same way that all other discrimination awards may be made.

There is a Code of Practice issued by the government, which addresses the question of discrimination, including disability discrimination. The Equality Act specifically refers to the code as being admissible as evidence in proceedings and it is, therefore, essential that employers acquaint themselves with the essential provisions of the code and the guidance that goes with it.

Age

In order to comply with the European Directive, the Government has introduced regulations relating to Age Discrimination effective from the 1st October 2006 and the Equality Act 2010.

Employers need to be mindful that Age Discrimination can take many forms and not just affect specific age groups.

The Regulations cover employment and vocational training. The regulations cover people of all ages so employers need to ensure that their policies in relation to recruitment, training, employment benefits, as well as retirement, comply with the legal requirements.

The regulations prevent both direct and indirect discrimination. In addition, employees may bring claims for harassment and victimisation because of their age. These regulations have an unusual potential defence of 'justification'. An employer has to show that they could objectively justify their action in the pursuit of a lawful aim or the measures taken were a proportionate response to achieve that legitimate aim. This defence may be one that could be used in relation to health and safety issues within the workplace.

In line with the age discrimination laws, any employer who wishes to set a compulsory retirement age will have to show a good reason to justify it. Employees will be able to potentially bring a claim for both unfair dismissal and age discrimination, should they be forcibly retired them without good reason. 

All employees, regardless of their age can bring a claim for unfair dismissal although the two year qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims remains.  In addition, all employees will be entitled to redundancy pay, in the event that they are made redundant (on the condition that they have over two years' service).

 

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