on
22
July
2019


In our perpetual struggle to create a fairer society, it’s comforting to know that we have the law on our side. Here are the UK laws protecting workplace diversity.

While workplace diversity in the UK is undoubtedly heading in the right direction, it needs all the help and encouragement it can get.

As ever, the most important and progressive changes in society come from the ground up. Normal, working people understand better than anyone the benefits of diversity in the workplace. It’s often the bosses, the bigwigs, the fat cats of society who most need convincing.  

And there are no bigger wigs or fatter cats than those in government. So what exactly have the right honourable members of parliament been up to in regards to workplace diversity over the years? Let’s find out.

Know your history

While anti-discrimination laws have been in effect since the Papists Act of 1778 that tackled religious discrimination against Catholics, laws relating directly to workplace diversity only appeared in the UK in the 1970s. The Equality Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976 were all passed by Harold Wilson’s Labour government and intended to redress the entrenched lack of diversity in the UK’s workforce and wider society.

Although the UK joined the European Community in 1975 (which would become the EU in 1992), the conservative government at the time opted out of the Social Chapter of the treaty, which included anti-discrimination provisions – naughty, naughty. Luckily, successive directives from the EU introduced explicit protections against discrimination based on sexuality, religion, age, race and gender.

UK employment equality laws today

Equality legislation has come a long way since the Papist laws of the 18th century. It’s now not just unlawful to discriminate against an individual on the grounds of their religion but any “protected characteristics’, such as age, race, gender, gender reassignment, marriage, sexual orientation, pregnancy, maternity or disability.

Equality Act of 2010

Today, the primary piece of anti-discrimination legislation that aims to uphold equality in UK labour law is the Equality Act of 2010. This act outlaws discrimination in access to employment, as well as education, public services and private goods and services or premises.  

The Equality Act replaced previous laws (such as the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) with one comprehensive act. This act strives for consistency when it comes to what both employers and employees need to do to make their workplaces an equal environment in the eyes of the law.

Key diversity points in the Equality Act 2010

  • Employers must take ‘positive action’ to help employees or job applicants it believes are at a disadvantage because of a ‘protected characteristic’ or are under-represented in their organisation.
  • Men and women in both full and part-time work have a right to equal pay, i.e. ‘no less favourable’ pay, benefits, and terms and conditions where the individuals in question are doing the same job (check out our blog post on the UK’s pay gap data).
  • Employers and service providers are obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their workplaces to accommodate disabled employees or job applicants.  

While the Equality Act mirrors the same goals as the EU Equal Treatment Directives, it goes further in that it also offers protection against discrimination based on an individual’s nationality and citizenship.

So what do workplace diversity laws look like in practice?

In the UK, discrimination is not only unlawful when an employer is hiring a person but also in the terms and conditions of the employment contract and in making a decision to fire an employee.

  • Direct discrimination – treating an individual less favourably than another who lacks the 'protected characteristic’. This is unlawful in all cases except when it relates to age. Discrimination on the grounds of age is actually lawful as long as there is a legitimate business justification that is recognised by a court. For example, an employer could put an upper age limit on a job that is very physically demanding, such as in the police or fire service.
  • Indirect discrimination – when an employer applies a comprehensive policy to their workplace which, although it applies to everyone equally, it has a disparate impact on people because of a ‘protected characteristic’ but has no reasonable occupational justification. For example, if an employer banned certain hairstyles such as dreadlocks in the workplace.
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Who upholds the law?

If an employee or job applicant suspects that they are being discriminated against, they can put their case forward at an employment tribunal. With the consultation of a trade union, solicitor, ACAS or the Citizens Advice Bureau, individuals can have their claim heard by a tribunal panel who will decide whether the individual’s employer or potential employer behaviour was unlawful.

Typical outcomes of employment tribunals include:

  • Reinstatement of claimant to their old job including the same terms and conditions, back pay and benefits.
  • Re-engagement in a new job on similar terms and conditions.
  • Financial compensation, which is the most common outcome of a successful employment tribunal claim.

Wrapping it up

So, there you have it – a 101 on the laws protecting workplace diversity in the UK. While you’ll have to do a little more reading before you take the bar exam, you should now have a better understanding of current employment anti-discrimination laws and how they have evolved over the years.  

Now that you know how workplace diversity is being encouraged, see why it should be a top priority for your company too. Also, find out how Applied is helping reduce workplace discrimination through our blind hiring platform. Just like the application of law and Lady Justice herself, the hiring process should be blind as to guarantee total impartiality.