Employers: don’t leave yourself open to discrimination claims

In February, BBC News reported that a gay couple travelling from Manchester tried to book themselves into a London hotel, only to be repeatedly asked: “Are you sure you don’t want single beds?” by the receptionist. When the coupled posted the comment on Twitter, it went viral and sparked outrage from the public. While the hotel has claimed “No form of discrimination is acceptable in our hotels and we regret what happened to Mr Hurley and his partner,” is this enough? Time will tell how the comment will affect the hotel, but if you’re an employer, you’d be well advised to avoid making similar mistakes. It’s vital to know about the Equality Act 2010, or you could find yourself in court for discrimination. You may need to change your company policies in order to comply with the law and prevent claims of unfair treatment that can be devastating to a business.

Discrimination – What should I look out for?

The Equality Act identifies nine ‘groups’ of people who are often the targets of discrimination. These people are known as having ‘special characteristics’ and are protected by the law:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender identity/gender reassignment
  • Marriage
  • Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy/maternity
  • Race
  • Religion/belief
  • Sex/sexual orientation

If any of your employees fall into these categories, it’s important to make sure you don’t treat them differently to other employees. One common example of discrimination happens at recruitment level – such as refusing to hire someone because they are too old or are disabled.

Recent changes to the law now stipulate that it is also illegal to treat a person with special characteristics the same as everyone else if it puts them at a disadvantage. For example, if you arrange an adventure team building session in the forest which requires climbing ropes and running, an employee over the age of 65 or a wheelchair-bound employee may accuse you of discrimination. Similarly, not installing a lift in your building because you’re reluctant to draw attention to a wheelchair-bound employee places them in danger and does not demonstrate equality.

How can I protect my company?

In order to protect yourself and your company, you may need to make adjustments to your policies and make sure you are an equal opportunity employer.

Specific things to be aware of are:

  • Contracts – do you have any discriminatory clauses or are there provisions on pay?
  • Are there any inconsistencies in your employees’ pay? Do you pay one gender more than the other? The Equality Act makes it legal for employees to discuss their wage with one another and if your company is found to be paying more to one ‘group’ than to another you could face an unfair treatment or discrimination claim.
  • Take a close look at your application procedure. Does your application form include questions on how many sick days the applicant took off last year? Does it ask for the applicants marital status or sexual orientation? If so, rewrite your application form to comply with the Equality Act.
  • As the hotel example demonstrates, sometimes it’s your staff that are at fault. Avoid this by providing them with equality training and anti-discrimination workshops. These are useful sessions to consider implementing if you wish to avoid being faced with an unfair treatment claim.
  • Make sure your company has a procedure in place to deal with accusations of discrimination.

If you’re not sure whether or not your company’s policies comply with the Equality Act or to find out more about what you can do to protect yourself against these ever-growing claims, speak to us. We’re experienced with cases of discrimination and know the common problems employers face.

Contact us on 01293 604123 or email enquire@bbc-law.co.uk.

This note is general comment. Don’t forget you need to take advice specific to your circumstances before acting or deciding not to act.


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