Why discrimination is a problem
Published 02 September 2019
The problems caused by discrimination in workplace
Any type of discrimination is abhorrent and combatting it should be top priority for all employers.
It is unlawful and occurs when an individual or group is treated differently from others based on what is known as a ‘protected characteristic’ (1)
Discrimination in employment occurs when an individual is subjected to unfavourable treatment based on race, gender, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity by employers.
Such treatment can have wide-ranging and devastating consequences and ramifications. For the target or victims of discrimination it can be extremely distressing and harmful, it can damage the career of the perpetrator and prove costly and cause reputational damage to an employer.
All employers, regardless of the size of the enterprise, should take a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination. However, it seems plenty of work is still needed to tackle the problem in UK workplaces.
A study conducted last year revealed that more than a quarter of British workers said they had experienced discrimination in the workplace.
The research, commissioned by Sky to mark National Inclusion Week, found prejudice towards gender, race and age was still commonplace in UK businesses (2) The study reported that those under the age of 25 are twice as likely to believe employers should do more to promote inclusion than those over the age of 55.
Government departments are also affected. Home Office agencies embroiled in the Windrush scandal (3) reported rising levels of discrimination in the workplace.
Employees at the Border Force and Immigration Enforcement, which played a key role in the wrongful detention and prosecution of people who rightfully came to the UK from the Caribbean, told an internal survey they face increasing levels of discrimination from colleagues (4)
Discrimination can have a negative and damaging effect on both the employee and employer.
For the employee it can affect the individual’s mental health causing increased stress, anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse problems, reduced self-esteem, loss of self-control, anger management problems and suicidal thoughts and attempts.
There can also be physical symptoms associated with discrimination, which are related to the psychological distress the individual may suffer. This can include aches and pains, obesity, high blood pressure, bouts of illness and increases in cardiovascular illnesses.
Everyone has the right to be treated fairly at work and for employers accommodating a diverse workforce and tackling all forms of discrimination makes good business sense.
Failing to tackle discrimination can lead to negative emotions and bad feelings in the workplace that can have a negative impact on teamwork, morale, focus and productivity and create a problematic atmosphere.
For an employer the most obvious implication of failing to tackle discrimination can be financial. There is no limit to the compensation that can be awarded in a successful discrimination claim.
An airport car parking firm was ordered to pay £78,000 each to 21 employees who it sacked for being too old (5). Drivers were told they could not work over the age of 67 because the insurance company would not cover them. The Employment Tribunal ordered the company to pay compensation to the drivers in respect of their unfair dismissal and direct age discrimination complaints.
For an employer having to defend itself against an Employment Tribunal claim can also be lengthy, expensive and draining, and it can have a damaging impact on the reputation of the business.
It is vital that employers have good procedures in place to combat any complaints of discrimination, as it will help to prevent employees from bringing any such claims against the business.
Employees should feel confident that complaints about unlawful discrimination will be taken seriously, regardless of how they are raised, and that they will be listened to and treated fairly. Workers should be fully informed of the options for raising a complaint and the procedures that will be followed in addressing it.
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- Equality rights [Internet] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com [Accessed on 27.8.19] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/equality-act/protected-characteristics
- National inclusion week [Internet] https:/www.independent.co.uk [Accessed on 27.8.19] https://www.independent.co.uk/extras/lifestyle/uk-workers-discrimination-office-workplace-sexism-racism-ageism-a8559501.html
- Home office [Internet] https://www.bbc.co.uk [Accessed on 27.8.19] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-46445109
- Border force and immigration [Internet] https://www.theguardian.com [Accessed on 27.8.19] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/aug/18/home-office-staff-discrimination-border-force-employees
- Employment tribunal [Internet] https://www.independednt.co.uk [Accessed on 27.8.19] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/purple-parking-workers-win-ageism-battle-after-dozens-sacked-for-being-too-old-9182110.html