Whilst our ancestry dates back 6 million years, modern humans, such as you and I, evolved 200,000 years ago. 6,000 years ago, we began laying the foundations of civilization in society. It is only in the last 200 years that we have we drastically reshaped the way in which we live our lives, following the reformation of society during the 1800’s Industrial Revolution.

Over time, our values within society have shifted. What was once deemed acceptable is now condemned, and gradually we are moving towards a day when we’ll be able to talk about what discrimination was, as opposed to what discrimination is.

What is Discrimination?

The Oxford Dictionary defines discrimination as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, sex, age or disability.” Measures have been implemented by UK law in order to protect employees in a place of work from any discrimination that may occur under the Equality Act 2010. In total the Equality Act 2010 recognises 9 grounds for discrimination which it terms as “protected characteristics”. This includes; age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and, sexual orientation.

Two Types of Discrimination

There are two types of discrimination – direct, and indirect.

Direct discrimination is when a person is treated unfairly due to a protected characteristic. An example of direct discrimination would be when a promotion is not offered to someone because they are a woman, and instead, it is given to a less qualified man.

Another recognised type of direct discrimination occurs when someone is treated unfairly due to an association they have with someone who has a protected characteristic. This is also termed as “discrimination by association” or “associative discrimination”.

“Discrimination by perception” is a direct form of discrimination that arises when someone is treated unfairly because they are perceived to have a protected characteristic that they do not. For example: Raum is not offered the job serving alcohol, because on the basis of her name, her employer has assumed that she is Muslim, when she is not.

Indirect discrimination is when general rules or arrangements that apply to all employee are unfair to people with a certain protected characteristic. In the instances of indirect discrimination, it can be allowed if the employer can justify a business case for the rule or arrangement – “objective justification”. An example of indirect discrimination that is allowed, could be an instance where there is an opportunity for promotion amongst the members of the sale team, however as the sale team in this example is all-men, the promotion is therefore not available to a woman. For indirect discrimination to be challenged by an employee, they must be able to prove both of the following:

  • It is unfair to the community of people with the protected characteristic in question.
  • It is unfair towards the people with a certain protected characteristic, and not to those who do not have the protected characteristic.

Asking about Protected Characteristics when Recruiting

When hiring new staff, it against the law for an employer to propose any questions regarding protected characteristics, unless in rare circumstances; such as: if the applicant has any disabilities that will impede their ability to fulfil the role. Instead, the employer should ask all applicants if there are any reasonable adjustments that can be provided in order to complete any part of the interview or hiring process.

How to Prevent Discrimination as an Employer

  • Build positive working relationships with employee engagement.
  • Provide anti-discrimination training to staff.
  • Make it clear how staff can report discrimination if it occurs.
  • Treat employees fairly.