This section highlights common (and very expensive) breaches of anti-discrimination law in the UK today. Disagree with the law if you want, try to change it if you can, but don't ignore it!
This is only a summary of a very complex area. For specific cases you need specific advice.
UK law prohibits discrimination based on sex and race. The law varies slightly between these two types of discrimination.
This is where an employee is treated 'less favourably' than other staff due to his or her race or sex. A good test is to ask whether would have been treated differently if they were a different race or sex. If the answer is 'Yes', then there is direct discrimination.
This is more hidden and discreet. It often arises completely unintentionally. Many of these decisions have been ridiculed for being too 'politically correct'. This is, nevertheless, the law and it will cost a lot of money if it is breached.
Treating part-time workers differently is likely to be indirect sex discrimination. How? Because the majority of part-time workers are women, and treating them differently amounts to sex discrimination. A major case related to pension rights which went to the European Court in the 1990s decided this point. The consequences cost billions of pounds.
The anti-discrimination law applies to all stages of the employment process, and covers:
- Advertising the job
- Interview process
- Terms of the job offer
- Promotion or training when at work
Anti-discrimination law applies to the interview! If a candidate is turned down for good reason, they may still claim that this was for sex or race discrimination. Even if the claim is finally defeated it may still cost a lot of time and money to deal with the matter. It is much better not to have the fight in the first place.
Do not ask questions to a woman that you would not ask to a man, for example 'are you able to cope with child-caring responsibilities'. Either ask the question of both sexes or shut up!
Do not ask a black person if he or she was 'born in Britain' unless you ask that question to all candidates, regardless of race.
Remember: An interview is a meeting of strangers. You do not know whether the other person has a political axe to grind and words can easily be twisted or misconstrued to make a case. Do not give them ammunition. Be extremely careful!
Is it ever lawful to discriminate on sex or race?
Yes, but only in very limited cases. There is no defence allowed at law to a claim for direct discrimination.
For indirect discrimination an employer can discriminate, but only if it can objectively justify this on grounds that it served a genuine business need. There are a few other very tightly restricted exceptions, which will not apply to the vast majority of cases.
There is no limit to the amount of compensation that can be claimed for sex and race discrimination. Awards of over £300,000 are not unknown. Damages can include payment for 'injury to feelings'. Any dismissal for sex or race discrimination is automatically unfair.
- It is easy to bring a claim.
- There is no limit to the amount of damages that can be awarded.
- Discrimination can arise when not expected.
- Careless talk costs money!
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