Despite increased awareness of its impact, discrimination in the workplace remains commonplace, and poses a significant challenge to employers. The potential consequences include costly legal action (with unlimited compensatory awards in the Employment Tribunal), as well as damaging publicity.
Discrimination need not be intentional in order to be unlawful, and the COVID-19 landscape presents new challenges for employers in ensuring that the measures they take do not disproportionately impact protected groups.
An example of direct discrimination – Unfavourable treatment “on the grounds of” a person having a protected characteristic, e.g. a female employee is selected for redundancy instead of a male, because men are viewed as being the main “breadwinners”.
An example of indirect discrimination – Where action the employer takes in respect of a group of people puts employees with a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage. For example the employer closes all communal rest areas on site as a social distancing measure, which negatively impacts an employee with a mental health condition who needs to take regular breaks away from his work-station.
This is a very complex area where the risks for employers of getting it wrong are significant. If you feel like you need help in navigating the minefield, please get in touch or call 01942 727 200.