Are you able to list, say, 5 protected characteristics off the top of your head?
As an employer, you should be able to. It means you’re aware of the potential for discrimination in your business and that you’re committed to making sure everyone is treated fairly and your business is inclusive.
In the UK, under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to treat someone unfairly at work because of any protected characteristic they possess. These are the aspects of a person’s identity that help make them who they are.
The Equality Act 2010 sets out 9 protected characteristics:
Religion or belief
Pregnancy or maternity
This includes both direct and indirect discrimination, such as treating an employee less favourably because they have one or more of these characteristics, or putting someone at a disadvantage by treating everyone the same and not taking certain other factors into account. It also includes harassment and victimisation.
While it may be obvious that the law applies to employees over things like pay and benefits, terms and conditions, training, promotion, performance management, redundancy and dismissal, what might not be so obvious is that it also protects employees before they’re hired by your business.
This means that you must be aware of the potential to discriminate during recruitment, too.
Any decision to dismiss an employee based on a protected characteristic will be classified as unfair, even if the employee has not been employed by you for more than two years.
Finally, in the cases of harassment and victimisation, as an employer you are not only liable for your own conduct towards those with protected characteristics, but you can also be held liable for the actions of other employees.
As with most things HR, it can be a little tricky to fully understand the ins and outs of employment law. And of course, there are occasions where discrimination against a protected characteristic isn’t unlawful (in cases of occupational requirement, for example).
If you’re unsure on anything relating to discrimination, protected characteristics, or anything else HR, feel free to contact us.
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