The Equality Act of 2010 protects people from discrimination in the course of their employment and in the course of applying for jobs and I have specialised in these type of claims for many years. The law in the UK protects against discrimination based on age, disability, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief (including political beliefs), gender, gender reassignment and sexual orientation. Discrimination can be either direct or indirect (where discrimination is against a group of people the majority of whom have a “protected characteristic”) including harassment and victimisation.
Discrimination claims frequently feature in the headlines due to the high level of compensation which is awarded particularly to high earning employees. The record award for any Employment Tribunal claim in the UK was made in the Leeds Employment Tribunal in a discrimination claim and amounted to more than £4 million.
Direct discrimination is usually fairly straightforward to identify because it is characterised as less favourable treatment of an individual who has a “protected characteristic” (for example lower rates of pay offered to female workers). Indirect discrimination is usually less obvious and often takes the form of a policy or practice which has a greater negative impact upon a group of people who have a protected characteristic (for example a regular practice of after work drinks on an evening which conflicts with the religious observance of a particular faith, or the practice of arranging “team bonding” events which focus upon drinking alcohol in an environment which is unattractive to particular groups, for example “lap dancing bars”).
Frequently discrimination claims arise out of what is often described as “banter” in the workplace and this can be difficult for a business to control. These situations can sometimes develop into a significant impact on a business. For example I have advised a food manufacturing business which was compelled to shut down production at a particular site due to contamination resulting from a practice of “dunking” apprentices in waste products on their birthdays. I often advise clients that the best way to deal with these type of claims is to avoid them by ensuring that staff are adequately and regularly trained to understand the importance of controlling and moderating behaviour in the workplace and I can provide support with the development and delivery of suitable training material for this purpose.
There is a growing trend in employment litigation towards the resolution of disputes using mediation and I have frequently taken part in mediation and received mediation training consequently I can use this mechanism where appropriate to deliver optimum results for a client. When mediation is used successfully it achieves a relatively swift resolution which can be important in discrimination claims in allowing the parties to maintain the employment contract meaning that the employee can continue working within the business after the dispute has been resolved (thereby reducing the potential cost to the business and allowing the employee to retain their job).
My experience of dealing with these type of claims over many years means that I can provide clients with realistic advice upon prospects of success from an early stage and can then assist to prepare and present their case in the strongest possible way.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you or your business are facing a situation which may crystallise into a discrimination claim. I prefer to be involved at an early stage in order to try to avoid the unnecessary costs and time demands of litigation wherever possible and there is a greater chance of this approach succeeding if I am instructed sooner rather than later.