Discrimination - Legal Obligations on Employers

Last reviewed on 16/02/2015 09:36

Employers are obliged to take steps to eliminate discrimination in recruitment and in the workplace in a number of ways.This section summarises relevant UK legislation and what employers must do to prevent discrimination.Quick links:Types of discrimination and behaviour covered by equalities legislation Disability discrimination Race Relations Act Equal Pay Act Sex Discrimination Act Employment Equality (Age) RegulationsTypes of discrimination and behaviour covered by equalities legislationAnyone employing staff needs to be aware of the different aspects of equalities legislation and ensure that they comply with them.The legislation covers different types of discrimination and behaviour:Direct discrimination: To treat someone less favourably than other employees on the basis of race, gender, age, religion or belief, disability or sexual orientation. For example, refusing to offer a suitably qualified candidate a job because of their age. Indirect discrimination: Where an employer imposes particular requirement or practice on all employees that may unnecessarily disadvantage a particular group. For example, insisting that job candidates are UK citizens when this is not an essential requirement of the post.Harassment: Defined as unwanted behaviour or conduct that that violates people's dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.Victimisation: To victimise a person because they have made a complaint or allegation concerned with discrimination on the basis of age, gender, religion or belief, disability or sexual orientation. back to topDisability discriminationThe Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee or potential employee on the basis of their disability.The Act covers both the recruitment and selection of employees and the ongoing employment of employees who become disabled.The Act places a legal responsibility on employers to make 'reasonable adjustments' to enable a job applicant to take up a job or to enable an existing employee to continue working.Some examples of reasonable adjustments are:changing working hoursallowing time off to receive medical treatmentproviding specialist equipmentproviding extra supervision or supportmaking changes to premises.The legislation takes into account various factors when considering if it is reasonable to expect an employer to make adjustments.These include:whether the adjustment effectively prevents disadvantagethe cost of making the adjustment and the financial resources of the employerthe availability of financial or other types of support for the employerthe size of the business.Find out more about disability discrimination within the Equality Act.  

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Race Relations Act

This legislation makes it illegal for an employer to treat any employee or potential employee less favourably than others on the basis of race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic origins.

The Act covers all employees including casual staff, self-employed contractors and staff hired through employment agencies, and is applicable regardless of the length of time worked for an employer or the number of hours worked per week.

The Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate in all areas of employment, including:

  • advertising vacancies
  • recruitment and selection of staff
  • terms and conditions (e.g. holidays, sick leave, entitlement to bonuses)
  • provision of opportunities for training, promotion or transfer
  • redundancy and termination of contract..

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Equal Pay Act

This Act gives employees (both male and female) the legal right to receive the same pay and benefits as someone of the opposite sex where they are doing the same work or work that is equivalent or deemed to be of equal value.

It covers all employees including full-time, part-time and temporary staff irrespective of how long they have worked for an employer.

The Act covers all elements of pay and benefits, including:

  • basic pay
  • non-discretionary bonuses
  • overtime rates and allowances
  • performance-related benefits
  • severance and redundancy pay
  • access to pension schemes
  • benefits under pension schemes
  • hours of work
  • company cars
  • sick pay
  • fringe benefits such as travel allowances.

Further information

For further information, please visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission's pages on Equal Pay (external site).

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Sex Discrimination Act

This legislation makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees or potential employees on the basis of gender or marriage. It covers all aspects of employment, including:

The only exception is when an employer can prove that employing someone of a specific gender is a genuine occupational requirement. This is where the nature of the job or particular duties of the job require that it be done by someone of a specific gender (e.g. a female worker in a women’s refuge).

  • recruitment and selection
  • provision of opportunities for promotion, transfer and training
  • terms and conditions of employment
  • redundancy and dismissal.

Further information

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has more information on sex discrimination.

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Employment Equality (Age) Regulations

Under this legislation, it is unlawful to discriminate against employees and potential employees because of their age.

The Regulations cover all aspects of employment including recruitment and selection, terms and conditions, opportunities for training, promotion or transfer and redundancy and dismissal.

The legislation establishes a national default retirement age of 65 and makes it illegal to compulsorily retire anyone before this age.

Employees have the right to ask to work beyond the age of 65 and employers must consider such requests. The legislation also removed the upper age limits on unfair dismissal and redundancy.

Further information

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has produced Age and the Workforce – A guide for employers (PDF – 856 KB, external site).