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What is Workplace Discrimination?

Compliance Knowledge Base | Equality and Diversity

Posted by: India Wentworth Published: Mon, 03 Sep 2018 Last Reviewed: Mon, 03 Sep 2018
What is Workplace Discrimination?

It may sound simple, but workplace discrimination occurs whenever discrimination takes place in the workplace. Discrimination can take place in any corner of society, with the workplace being a consistent area for problems to arise.

Discrimination means treating someone differently because of who they are and the qualities they possess. When this treatment is unfair and offensive, discrimination is taking place. Workplaces should be made up of people from different backgrounds in terms of age, sexuality, and race, but unfortunately this variation is the perfect place for discrimination to occur. Additionally, this can also lead to harassment and victimisation depending on what the perpetrator does following on from the discrimination.

Different Forms of Discrimination

There are different techniques of discriminating against someone: direct and indirect. Whilst "direct" means that someone is treated differently because of who they are, "indirect" means that a policy is set that applies to everyone, but it can have a negative impact on someone due to their qualities.

For example, if someone was being refused entry to a nightclub because they were Jewish it would be direct discrimination due to religion and belief. On the other hand, if a hair salon has a policy that means they refuse to employ stylists that cover their own hair, indirect discrimination would be occurring. This is because it means that a Muslim woman or Sikh man might be unable to apply for the position due to wearing headwear, so it is an example of indirect discrimination.

What is Workplace Discrimination?

Whether discrimination is carried out directly or indirectly, the same nine terms are listed by the Equality Act 2010 as 'protected categories'. In other words, if an individual is discriminated against because of them, the law is being broken - something that could lead to penalties such as fines and reputational damage for the business too.

The protected categories are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and Civil Partnerships
  • Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

By having standards that organisations need to meet to combat workplace discrimination, consistency is achieved across all businesses so that employees and customers are treated fairly. By following these rules and regulations, companies are showing that they comply with equality and diversity, creating a better system all round.

Real-Life Workplace Discrimination

Pregnancy: Mary was six months pregnant. After ten years of working at an accounting firm, she applied for a senior position and was rejected, despite being the best candidate due to her experience and qualifications. When she asked the manager for feedback, he said he needed someone "more dedicated to the position".

Because of her pregnancy and impending maternity leave, she was discriminated against, causing the employer to see her as a less reliable worker.

Disability: Tom worked in a toy shop and had a physical disability that prevented him from carrying heavy items. He discovered that his co-workers were on a higher salary despite having the same experience and workloads. When he asked his manager about it, she said it was because he didn't do as much within the business. Limitations in some aspects of the job caused the manager to see Tom as a less valuable member of staff, discriminating against him because of his disability.

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