How to deal with discrimination in the workplace

What is harassment?

Cases of workplace discrimination are continuing to grow in numbers every year. According to the Independent, research issued by Sky uncovered that prejudice was still a recurring issue in UK businesses. It was also revealed that staff were primarily being targeted based on their age, gender and race.

Unfortunately, cases of discrimination are all too common in the workplace. As abuse can be portrayed in a number of ways and towards all members of society, there’s never been a more sensitive time to be wary of ongoing bullying and harassment at work.

It’s the responsibility of employers to ensure that their staff are protected from this unfair treatment. Identifying discrimination and dealing with it accordingly is a challenging task due to the sensitivity around this issue, but it’s possible to do this as long as you understand what qualifies as discrimination, what causes it and how to prevent it from occurring within your company.

What is considered discrimination in the workplace?

Although there are obviously many characteristics that can be exploited in any working environment, understanding what counts as discrimination and what doesn’t is vital for employers. To clarify what technically counts as discrimination, the Equality Act 2010 named nine protected characteristics.

The types of discrimination include sex discrimination, disability discrimination, gender reassignment discrimination, age discrimination, race discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, pregnancy and maternity discrimination, religion or belief discrimination, and marriage and partnership discrimination.

Discriminating against an employee on the basis of any of these nine characteristics is against the law. This list of categories is only likely to grow in the future, with things like discrimination against employees with tattoos and discrimination based on dress code becoming more of a concern to employees in recent times.

What constitutes bullying

What causes discrimination in the workplace?

Discrimination can occur as early as the recruitment process, especially if candidates are being chosen – whether consciously or subconsciously – based on characteristics such as gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability. Even things like judging someone by their financial status or credit rating can be seen as discriminatory if it’s used to determine their suitability to an unrelated job role.

Even positive workplace discrimination can be problematic and get employers into legal difficulties. For example, offering unfair preferential treatment to individual employees by being more generous with work incentives, bonuses and pay rises could lead to discrimination claims from the remaining colleagues, as they are likely to receive inferior treatment in comparison.

How to prevent discrimination in the workplace

There are many steps you can take to prevent discrimination in your workplace. Simple but effective changes include:

  • As an employer, set a precedent for what is and is not acceptable - make sure you have a clear understanding of your responsibilities in this area as an employer. This understanding should inform your treatment of all workers and prospective workers.
  • Promote the same standards on your employees - it's also vital to make sure that your employees are made aware of their rights and responsibilities on this topic. As part of this, you may wish to run equality training sessions.
  • Encourage transparency on incidents of discrimination - you should ensure that your workers know how to raise any concerns about discrimination, and have procedures in place to address these problems effectively and efficiently.
  • Regularly update company handbook to match current regulations - it's important to update your company handbook and equal opportunities information frequently to prevent any chance of missing important changes to the legislation around the topic of equality.

Got a question? 

Discrimination is a very sensitive topic. If you need help with anything from putting policies in place and handling difficult conversations, to carrying out investigations and following fair procedures, our experts are here for you.

Get in touch with the team on 0345 844 1111 or to see how we can start supporting your business today.

And if you’re a Citation client, remember, we’re available 24/7 with our advice line.

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