May 17, 2016

Common misconceptions around discrimination

Everyone knows that a good reputation can take a lifetime to build, and a second to destroy.

A good reputation will help to attract new business, and will also mean that the best people in the industry will want to work for your company.

However, a case of discrimination in the workplace could not only cost you thousands of pounds in claims, but could also tarnish the reputation that your company has worked so hard to build up.

What should employers be aware of?

Not only do employers need to know what constitutes as discrimination, they also need be aware of the misconceptions and myths that surround the Equality Act 2010

As a brief overview, there could be a claim for discrimination if anyone is treated differently or unfairly due to one of the ‘protected characteristics’ which are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

Most Common Misconceptions are around Sex Discrimination

Sex discrimination is an area surrounded by a number of misconceptions or ‘myths’. For example, it is often thought that this piece of legislation was only brought in to make it unlawful for a man to treat a woman unfairly.

However, it is just as unlawful for a woman to discriminate against another woman because of her sex; a man to discriminate against another man because of his sex; or a woman to discriminate against a man because of his sex.

Another area where sex discrimination comes in is dealing with flexible working requests, as many believe that it would be fine to give preference to a woman’s request for flexible working over a man’s request, as women are more likely to be the main child carer. In this case, you are discriminating against men.

Flexible working requests can now be made for reasons other than child care, so to dismiss a request on the above grounds would certainly be unfair. All requests should be treated consistently in order to avoid such claims.

Interviewing can be another area where sex discrimination can easily apply. For example, is it ok to ask a woman of child-bearing age if she is intending to have children?

Quite simply, the answer is ‘No, it’s not OK’, unless you were to ask the same question of a man… which is highly unlikely. In order to avoid such discriminatory questioning, keep your questions to things which are related to the job role or the applicant’s CV.

Other Misconceptions – Bullying and Harassment

It is often thought that if someone is just joking around and doesn’t mean to offend or intimidate someone, then that can’t possibly be considered to be harassment. The fact is that it is how the recipient perceives the behaviour that matters, not how the person making the joke intends it to be.

Many employers believe that they are not responsible for their employees’ discriminatory behaviour. However, this is not always the case and, in certain circumstances, the employer can be held liable for their employees’ actions.

This can include things such as bullying or harassment if it happens in the course of their employment. In order to prevent such actions, ensure that all employees are aware of and understand the requirements of your Equal Opportunities Policy.

Ensuring that your employees receive regular training on equal opportunities may help to prevent you becoming vicariously liable for your employees’ actions.

Disability

It’s quite common for employers to try to argue that some specific adjustments to accommodate someone with a disability would be so expensive that it would be detrimental to the business.

A high initial cost does not always mean that it is not cost-effective in the long term and all aspects should be looked at in detail, including recruitment and training costs of a new employee for example, before refusing to pay for an adjustment.

Failure to make reasonable adjustments may end up costing far more than the initial cost of the adjustment should an Employment Tribunal decide that compensation is due.

 

Should you require advice on any discrimination issue, please contact the Advice Line.

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About the author

Elaine Pritchard

Elaine has a wealth of knowledge in producing contracts, training materials and other documentation as well as training other consultants. She piloted a scheme whereby she went on-site to act as a client’s HR Manager two days per week, whilst the post-holder was on maternity leave. Elaine also previously ran her own retail business for seven years, employing four people. Elaine is a field based consultant for Moorepay and provides on-site HR and Employment Law advice, consultancy and training services to our clients.