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Preventing Discrimination at Work UK

There are policies employers must use to prevent unlawful discrimination in the workplace. This guide explains how preventing discrimination applies to recruitment and in employment.

DISCRIMINATION POLICY UK: Treating some people in a different way to others is discriminatory.

Even so, there are situations where it is not unlawful even in the United Kingdom.

An example is paying different wages based on skill level and status.

But, the law also provides some protection and prevention against discrimination. Certain reasons and situations exist whereby your employer cannot discriminate against you.

The rules fall under the United Kingdom discrimination policies. They aim to provide equal opportunities in recruitment and during employment in the workplace.

Treating someone less ‘favourably‘ because of a personal characteristic is against the law. Typical examples may include disabled workers, age, gender reassignment, religion, and sex discrimination.

Workplace policies for employers preventing discrimination relate most to situations such as:

  • The reasons behind choosing not to hire or employ someone.
  • Paying workers different pay rates without a valid reason.
  • The redundancy selection process and how it applies to a particular person.

It is possible for an employer to discriminate at work even when they did not intend to do so. Most examples of indirect discrimination relate to a disadvantaged workforce.

Note: For example, offering work rules or working conditions to one group of people and not others.

Discrimination in Recruitment and Selection

Employer Discrimination in Job Adverts

Job adverts must not state or imply any discriminatory practice against anyone. An example would be stating that an employer is unable to cater for workers if they have a disability.

Some job adverts include phrases such as ‘highly experienced‘ or must be a ‘recent graduate‘. This kind of job description is not always unlawful discrimination. But they would be if they were not actual job requirements for the posting.

Employment adverts like these can often discriminate against younger people or the elderly. It discriminates them from applying if they had no opportunity to get qualified.

You must be careful where you place a job advertisement. It also relates to employers preventing discrimination in the workplace. It is another form of indirect discrimination (e.g. advertising in magazines only for men).

Employers Preventing Discrimination in Recruitment and SelectionEmployers can contact the Small Business Recruitment Service. They will offer help on advertising a job without discriminating against candidates.

Small Business Recruitment Service
Telephone: 0345 601 2001 (option 2)
Textphone: 0345 601 2002
List of telephone call charges.

Recruiting Questions Not to Ask Candidates

Employers cannot ask candidates about their ‘protected characteristics‘ during recruitment. That means you must avoid questions on topics such as:

  • Whether the candidate is single, married with a spouse, or living in a civil partnership.
  • Whether the candidate has children already or are they planning to have children.

Asking Questions on Disability and Health

There are limits on what employers can ask when recruiting disabled people and those with health issues. Some accepted situations could be if:

  • The job has some necessary requirements that cannot get met using ‘reasonable adjustments‘.
  • The purpose of the questions is to find out whether they need help to take part in an interview or a selection test.
  • The employer is using ‘positive action‘ as part of their recruitment of a disabled person.

Note: Any discrimination taking place in a recruitment process may be breaking the law. This applies even in cases where the employer is using a recruitment agency to find staff.

Asking for Date of Birth on Job Application

There are restrictions on when an employer can ask for a date of birth on an application form. Asking for a date of birth is lawful if the applicant must be of a certain age to meet the job description. An example could be to sell alcohol.

Employers can ask for a date of birth using a separate equality monitoring form. But, the person selecting or interviewing the candidates should not see this form.

Employers do not need to track job applications (e.g. equality monitoring) from different groups of people or workers. But, you must be protecting personal data you collect (e.g. ethnicity, faith, gender, sexuality).

Discrimination based on Criminal Conviction

Job applicants do not need to inform potential employers about spent criminal convictions. An interviewer must treat an applicant as though the conviction did not happen. As a rule, employers cannot refuse to hire a person because they have a conviction.

Note: Certain areas of employment, such as schools, are exempt from these discriminatory rules.

Trade Union Membership

Using a candidate’s membership of a trade union as a determining factor is not allowed. You cannot use this information alone in your decision to employ someone or not. This also means employers cannot:

  • Refuse to employ someone because of their trade union membership.
  • Insist that someone joins a trade union as a prerequisite to employment.

Employing People with ‘Protected Characteristics’

Hiring a candidate with a protected characteristic over one without may not be unlawful. Both candidates must be suitable for the job and you believe the applicant with the protected characteristic:

  • Is underrepresented in your workforce, the industry, or the profession.
  • Has a disadvantaged connection to that characteristic. An example could be people from a certain ethnic group not given jobs in your sector.

This only applies in trying to address the disadvantage or under-representation for that particular characteristic. Decisions must get made on a case by case basis and not only because of a certain policy.

Note: Choosing a candidate with a protected characteristic but not suitable for the job is unlawful.

Discrimination Law for Favouring Disabled Candidates

There could be times when a disabled person and a non-disabled person both meet the requirements for the job. In these cases, employers can treat the disabled person more ‘favourably‘.

Discrimination in Employment

Employers must not discriminate against any of their employees. There are several ways that discrimination during employment can occur, including:

  • The introduction of measures that discriminate between the workforces. An example could be a benefit for married employees that is not available for those living in a civil partnership.
  • Payment of differing amounts to men and women doing equal value work. This also applies to benefits such as a company car.
  • The selection of someone for redundancy because they have a protected characteristic.
  • Failures in making reasonable adjustments in the workplace for disabled employees.
  • Firing an employee for making an allegation of discrimination or because they have trade union membership.
  • Making an unfair rejection to a request for flexible working from a new parent.

Note: The rules for employers preventing discrimination at work also apply to self-employed people on a contract for them. Employee age, or their continuous employment, cannot be the only factor for training and promotion.

Employers can ask their employees about their future career plans and retirement intentions. But, choosing only elderly workers for talks about retirement is not allowed. All the workforce should be part of general discussions about future career development.

Cases for Employment Tribunal

Formal procedures exist for any employee discriminated against. They can raise a grievance or submit their case to an employment tribunal.

Note: As a rule, employers are responsible for any discrimination carried out by their employees. Exceptions apply to those who can show they did everything reasonable to prevent it or stop it.

Employing a Family Member

Hiring family members is not against the law in itself. But, as their employer you must:

  1. Avoid giving special treatment related to salary, working conditions, and promotion.
  2. Ensure their tax and National Insurance contributions get filed and paid.

Gender Reassignment Discrimination

UK discrimination rules on gender reassignment are strict. They take effect the moment a worker informs their employer of their plans for gender reassignment. From that moment on their discrimination rights protect them on situations that may:

  • Not enable the worker to use facilities that are appropriate to their gender.
  • Disadvantage the worker for time taken off work because of their medical treatment.

Thus, the rules for employers preventing discrimination in the workplace mean you must:

  • Ensure complete confidentiality of all the information the worker gives to an employer about their gender history.
  • Change the work records and human resources records where appropriate. This applies to the time when the worker produces a new birth certificate and a Gender Reassignment Certificate.

Policy for Employers Preventing Discrimination at Work in the United Kingdom