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Discrimination and it's presence within the workplace

Written by Karen Holden on Monday, 25 October 2021. Posted in Commercial law, Legal

Discrimination and social inequality have been a recurring theme in recent years, with a lot of activists and social justice movements dominating headlines.

Discrimination and it's presence within the workplace

Discrimination and social inequality have been a recurring theme in recent years, with a lot of activists and social justice movements dominating headlines. According to the Equality Act 2010, discrimination is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of a person because of their social attributes, such as race, gender/gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, sexuality, age or disability. What is most crucial to remember is that discrimination can appear in many different forms and that unconscious biases are often the cause, rather than an explicit intention to cause harm or offend. Thus, discrimination can be ‘split’ into two major categories:

What are the difference between explicit and implicit discrimination?

Explicit discrimination is a conscious and intentional act, with the purpose to offend and/or hurt someone because of their social attributes. This relates to a person’s conscious biases, for instance someone who had a negative experience with a person of African descent and now treats all people they meet of similar backgrounds with a level of bias. In the workplace this maybe if you have a promotion to offer you may seek to immediately offer this to someone of the same age, race and background as yourself rather than offering this out to all persons ‘right for the role’ regardless of how different, unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable this makes you feel.

Implicit discrimination is most often caused by unconscious biases, such as stereotypes that refer to certain social attributes. For example, someone crossing the road from a man wearing a thobe, due to stereotypes about Muslim/Arab men. In the workplace this can be a woman who is married in her thirties being perceived as likely to want to have children, rightly or wrongly, whether she even wants or is considering children this wouldn’t prevent her from performing her role.

Discrimination in the workplace

Discrimination is unlawful; it should have no place anywhere, yet it can be unavoidable for some people. Within the workplace, many employers have begun to revise their approach to dealing with the social issues many of their employee’s face. Employers not only hold the legal responsibility of taking sufficient precautions so that their employees do not suffer discrimination by others within the workplace, but also that adequate actions is taken in incidents where these precautions have failed. This is even if this is outside of the workplace, but perhaps harassment by fellow employees. The reach has been extended the definition of workplace to distinguish when out of work or off-site work events can lead to serious incidents of harassment or discrimination. Employers need to be vigil, proactive and reactive around these issues.

The employer’s perspective

Legislation like the Equality Act and the Race Relations Act have consolidated social standards and give the power to hold those who discriminate to account. To this end, employers can be held responsible for its actions, such as treating people less favourably due to a protected characteristic like gender or race, as well as being held accountable for the actions of their employees within the workplace.  As such aside from social conscious, the threat of claims, means employers need to take a whole workplace perceptive when dealing with its staff. Action to avoid, prevent and resolve issues in the workplace could include talks and activities that highlight the social biases people may have, having a confidential helpline or other support systems in place to help employees when they feel they have been wronged. Employers need robust staff policies and grievances must be actioned immediately, with carefully documented evidence of the way in which the employer has investigated and handed the complaint. 

The employee’s perspective

An employee who is experiencing discrimination in the workplace should first raise their issue internally (with the Human Resources or other relevant departments). If they feel that their issues have not been appropriately or adequately dealt with, then they should raise their concerns in a formal complaint or an escalated formal grievance. If this is not addressed, then a claim for discrimination may become necessary. 

However, employer and employee engagement can help often create a platform of transparency and integration if the polices are clear, communication is facilitated, and management create a diverse and open leadership example.

About the Author

Karen Holden

Karen Holden

Karen Holden is an award-winning solicitor, media commentator and founder of A City Law Firm. She was one of 100 women invited into the Freedom of the City last year, an accolade previously bestowed upon Florence Nightingale and Margaret Thatcher. Karen specialises in advising businesses about scaling-up, starting up, investments, Brexit, Covid-19 and everything in between.

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