The Equality Act incorporates the same discrimination legislation ie: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity. These are now called ‘protected characteristics’.
The Act however goes further and extends protection to characteristics that were not previously covered by the old separate statutes.
It is essential that employers check their current policies and procedures and update where necessary.
Direct discrimination under the Equality Act deals with less favourable treatment compared to another person because of a protected characteristic they have or are thought to have (see perception discrimination below), or because they associate with someone who has a protected characteristic.
A clear example of such direct discrimination is an employer refusing promotion on the basis that an employee is female or from Pakistan or 60 years of age – or indeed all three!!
Indirect discrimination happens if the employer has a condition, rule, policy or even a practice that applies to everyone but particularly puts certain employees /people in one or more of the protected characteristic groups above at a disadvantage.
An obvious case of indirect discrimination would be impose a requirement that a job can only be given to someone who agrees to work overtime at a moment’s notice with justification. This would unfairly exclude a larger proportion of female candidates.
Indirect discrimination can be justified however if a company can show that it acted reasonably in managing your business and it was absolutely essential.
Discrimination by association
This is a relatively new area brought in by the Equality Act although it applied to certain areas of discrimination previously.
This means discrimination against someone because they associate with another person who possesses a protected characteristic.
For example, you are harassed or dismissed for belonging to a multi-cultural organisation which has a high Muslim membership or you are married to a person from Africa.
This is direct discrimination against an individual because others think they possess a particular protected characteristic. It applies even if the person does not actually possess that characteristic.
An absurd but not unheard of example of this would be the dismissal of an employee on the basis that his manager thought he was gay because of the way he or she dressed.
Included in the sphere of discrimination are the well-known concepts of Harassment, (including Third Party Harassment) and Victimisation. These are common terms in the employment world but are often misunderstood or poorly explained.
As a thumbnail guide, Harassment is “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual”.
Employers must protect their own employees from such conduct and indeed protect other persons such as clients or contractors who may come into contact with their employees. Imagine being insulted wantonly by your bank manager! That’s possible Third Party Harassment against the bank.
Victimisation is effectively picking on or singling out individuals or groups for having brought a grievance, complaint of legal proceedings under the Equality Act. E.g.: Withholding a pay rise from someone because they have made an Employment Tribunal claim for equal pay.
The above is only designed to be a short guidance for employers and employees on what can be an extremely complex area of the law.
We recommend that you take proper legal advice if you think you have suffered anything like the above or whether someone is accusing your company or you of having done so.
We will be pleased to provide our free initial assessment to anyone needing advice or considering a claim or defending a claim.