Last month the Equality Tribunal awarded €63,000 in compensation to a Travelodge receptionist for discrimination on the ground of race, and for victimisation, however the issue actually arose when the receptionist returned from maternity leave to find her hours had been reduced and that a temporary staff member was kept on. It was alleged that the receptionist’s manager had stated that her English wasn't good enough to work day-shifts despite having worked those shifts for the previous three years with no issue.
After the employee lodged a formal written complaint, she was then threatened by her manager and told CCTV would be reviewed for any possible wrongdoing by her. She was also accused of selling alcohol to a non-resident of the hotel, an accusation which was proven to be incorrect.
The Tribunal found the employee had succeeded in her complaint of discrimination on the ground of race and further accepted that she was treated less favourably because of her maternity leave. The Tribunal was also satisfied that the actions taken by the employer following the employee’s complaint amounted to adverse treatment and victimisation.
So how can you ensure this doesn't happen in your business?
Admittedly, the issue of equality and discrimination in the workplace is a challenging one for Irish employers, as well as for employees who suffer from discrimination in the workplace.
The penalties of discriminating against an employee either in employment or in the interview process can be disastrous for Irish employers.
The Employment Equality Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the following grounds:
- Marital status
- Family status
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Sexual orientation
- Race/colour/nationality/ethnic or national origins
- Membership of the travelling community
It is imperative for employers to have policies in place to deal with the grounds for discrimination above, specifically a sexual harassment policy which would cover all grounds.
However having workplace policies on their own is not enough; they must be proactively and continually implemented and training must be provided for staff to ensure that employers are taking all reasonable steps to implement policies in the workplace.
Types of Discrimination
Discrimination falls into two categories:
- Direct discrimination
- Indirect discrimination
Direct discrimination is outlawed in the following areas:
- Discrimination in collective agreements
- Discrimination by employers
- Discrimination by employment agencies
- Discriminatory advertising
- Discrimination in vocational training
- Discrimination by professional and trade associations and trade unions
Indirect discrimination occurs when an employer applies a condition to everyone in the workplace, a condition that fewer people of one gender (or other discriminatory ground) than another is able to comply with. One exception to the rule is if an employer can objectively justify the condition as a means of achieving an appropriate objective.
Lessons for Employers
Equality and anti-discrimination legislation has had a huge impact on the workplace. In all cases where facts can point towards discrimination under any of the grounds set out in the Employment Equality Act then it is up to the employer to prove otherwise. This can be a significant burden on employers so it is necessary to examine all work practices to ensure one is not left open to a successful claim.
Employers need to be aware of:
- recruitment and promotion
- terms, conditions and benefits
- harassment policies
- discrimination policies
- positive action
As previously stated, employers also need to understand that it is not enough to merely have the necessary policies drawn up; they must ensure that they are implemented in the workplace to actively prevent discrimination and harassment.
The contents of this article are necessarily expressed in broad terms and limited to general information rather than detailed analyses or legal advice. Specialist professional advice should always be obtained to address legal and other issues arising in specific contexts.