Employers should ensure that they treat all employees equally regardless of race, sex, age or disability.
What constitutes 'discrimination'?
In general terms, "discrimination" means treating someone less favourably because of their age, sex, racial or ethnic origin, or because of a disability*.
* Note: 'disability' has a wider meaning than might be expected. It means a long term mental or physical impairment, which has a substantial effect on someone's day -to - day activities, not just on their ability to do a particular job.
It is vitally important that all employees, particularly those at managerial or supervisory level are aware of the importance of treating all staff equally. Employers can be "vicariously" liable for the actions of supervisors and managers, if it can be shown that the employer failed to take appropriate action in cases of discrimination. (In other words, the employer can "carry the can" for the actions of individual employees)
Generally, an individual act of discrimination by an employee against a fellow employee is likely to be followed by disciplinary action and in extreme cases dismissal may be justified.
It is important that the employer can demonstrate that policies are in place to prevent discrimination and that the policies have been:
- drawn to the attention of individual employees
In the case of new recruits, this can form part of the induction process. For existing employees, policies can be drawn to the attention of the employees, by "training sessions", with proper records of such sessions being kept.
Equal opportunities policies will
- communicate to the workforce what will happen in the case of an employee who is guilty of discrimination
- provide a mechanism for any employees who feel that they are the subject of discrimination, to raise problems with management in the belief that complaints will be properly investigated, and if proven, appropriate action taken.
Individuals subject to discrimination often find it difficult to raise these matters, particularly if they feel that discriminatory attitudes are shared by management. An appropriate procedure should be adopted by the management to overcome this.
Potential areas for discrimination
Employers should particularly review:
- disciplinary procedures
- redundancy selection
Clear and consistent policies and procedures will minimise the risk that, inadvertently, employees are treated differently depending on their age, sex, race or the presence of any disability. Remember, there is no ceiling on the potential compensation, which can be awarded to an employee who can establish unlawful discrimination.