Why discrimination should be stopped
The need for employers to keep working to tackle all forms of discrimination
Investigating and addressing any form of workplace discrimination should be a top priority for all employers.
Discrimination usually involves some form of exclusion or rejection that is a direct result of one of the protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act, 2010 (1)
The treatment is unlawful as it is based on an individual’s age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity.
Discrimination occurs when an employer treats one employee less favourably than others because of a protected characteristic. It could mean a female employee being paid less than a male colleague for doing the same job, or an employee from a minority ethnic community being refused the training opportunities offered to other colleagues.
For the target of discrimination the impact of being subjected to such unfavourable treatement, just because of who you are, can be degrading, hurtful and devastating. Despite this it still appears to a problem in UK workplaces which was highlighted in two studies that were reported recently.
One study revealed that women are facing discrimination in the workplace because of their periods. More than one in 10 of those who were quizzed said they had been on the receiving end of negative comments (2)
While separate research found that almost 50 per cent of dads who have accepted their allocated parental leave have been discriminated against in the workplace (3)
Employers can, and have been, held legally responsible for acts of discrimination that occur at work or are connected to the workplace.
This can have a huge financial impact on an organisation regardless of its size and cause significant reputational damage. There is currently no cap on the amount of compensation an employee, or former employee, can be awarded in the event of a successful claim for any type of discrimination.
A hospital consultant was awarded £4.5m after winning claims for unfair dismissal and sex and race discrimination against the NHS Trust where she worked (4)
The tribunal panel was reported as ‘positively outraged’ at the way the employer behaved and concluded the Polish-born doctor would never be able to carry out her work again.
The cost and stress of losing a discrimination claim, and even for an employer in having to defend itself against one, should not be the only motivation to be resolute in tackling discrimination.
The effects of discrimination can have a damaging impact on the victim. Aside from increased stress, it can also cause anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse problems, reduced self-esteem, loss of self-control, anger management problems and suicidal thoughts and attempts.
As well as the mental anguish that the target of discrimination may suffer there can also be physical symptoms related to high stress. It may include aches and pains, obesity, high blood pressure, bouts of illness and increases in cardiovascular illnesses.
There can also be a wider workplace impact with discrimination. It can negatively affect other employees who have the same characteristics as the victim, as they are likely to fear being targeted for the same reason.
If discrimination is not dealt with, the knock on effect can lead to a loss of trust and confidence in an employer, drop in morale, communication and teamwork problems which can inevitably impact on productivity.
Employers should have a strong and clear equal opportunity policy to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Effective procedures should also be in place to investigate and deal with any allegations of discrimination.
Complaints should be taken seriously regardless of how they are raised. Employees should be aware of how to raise concerns, what will happen once they have done so and what will happen if someone is found to have discriminated against someone else.
Any disciplinary investigations should be fair and reasonable and conducted in accordance with the ACAS Code of Practice (5)
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