Discrimination in the Workplace Ireland

Equality Law & Discrimination in the Workplace Ireland 

Discrimination at the workplace occurs when you are treated less favourably than another person is, has been, or would be treated because of either your:

  • Gender
  • Civil status
  • Family status
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins) or
  • Membership of the Traveller community. 
discrimination at the workplace


The term victimisation is used to describe unfair treatment of a worker by an employer because of some action the worker has taken.

The Workplace Relations Commission also deals with complaints of discrimination on the grounds of gender under the Pensions Act 1990 – 2009 in relation to occupational benefit or pensions schemes. It cannot deal with complaints about licensed premises (for example, pubs) and registered clubs (for example, some golf clubs are registered clubs).

To pursue a complaint about a licensed premises or registered club you must take your case to the District Court.

Time Limits – Discrimination at the Workplace Cases Ireland 

Complaints under the Employment Equality Acts must be brought within 6 months of the act of discrimination. You should make your complaint using the complaint form on the Workplace Relations Commission website. The completed form should be returned to Workplace Relations Commission.

Frequently Asked Questions
What is discrimination in the workplace? / What would be considered discrimination?

Discrimination is where one person is treated less favourably than another person is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation on any of the grounds referred to the discriminatory grounds. It is must be because of one of the grounds mentioned in the above paragraph.

So, for example, the discrimination must be related to one of the grounds such as a disability. If one was treated unfairly at work which was connected to a disability, such as, epilepsy, this would constitute discrimination which is not permitted by the legislation and exposes an employer to potential liability if it arises.

What are 3 examples of discrimination?

  1. If a female employee is treated unfairly due to gender;
  2. If an employee with a disability is treated unfairly which is connected to having the disability;
  3. If an employee is treated unfairly due to their race.
What is an example of indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination can be insidious but is wholly unacceptable, but a difficultly with it is it can be less clearly visible.

If, for example, people at work are treated the same, but the effect of the treatment on the employee with a disability, for example, is unfair which is based on the protected characteristic.

What is not considered discrimination?

If you were treated unfairly which is not related to one of the specified grounds.

Can you be sacked for having a disability ?

This evidently should not happen and the employee can challenge an employers decision under the Equality Acts for discriminatory dismissal, if such an event happens.

Workplace Stress

It is common in workplace disputes that the trust which once existed between the parties ie employer and employee evaporates.

An employer makes the decision to terminate an employees employment while on sick leave, due to workplace absence or for failing to submit sickness certificates, for example. The employer does not believe the employee’s reason for absence is given and dismisses the employee and thereafter a discriminatory dismissal legal action commences.

In the employers reasoning, they acted fairly, the employee was not telling the truth, but the employer may find themselves legally exposed.  

In the employees view they were out on leave with workplace stress while on certified sick leave.

An employee then feels discriminated against and the employee potentially has the option of taking an unfair dismissal claim under the Unfair Dismissal Acts but elects to take a discriminatory dismissal action under the Equality Acts.

The rationale for this is that the employee was operating under a disability ie the illness at the time they were dismissed, and the employer did not afford them with what is termed reasonable accommodation as a consequence of having a disability.

In such a workplace dispute before a dismissal arises, it would be very beneficial for the employer to obtain legal advice before they act and dismiss the employee.  

If an employee submits a sickness certificate citing the employee has workplace stress, and/or if the medical professional engaged by the employer also concludes same, it is imprudent for an employer to write to the employee indicating they do not believe or accept the absence is due to workplace stress and the absence reason is due to the employee seeking to avoid a workplace issue and then ending the employees employment with immediate effect.

If an employee were to take such a claim under the Equality Acts, and successful, the WRC can make an order of up to 2 years of the employee’s salary by way of compensation.

Equality Acts

The Equality Acts prohibit discrimination, which occurs when one person is treated less favourably than another is due to the fact they have a disability. There are also other categories of discrimination that are prohibited, but this post is confined to discussing discrimination in connection with a disability.

If a person has a disability, the employer must take steps to allow an employee access to employment, participate in the employment unless there is a disproportionate burden on the employer. An employee with a disability must be afforded reasonable accommodation in the workplace as a consequence of having the disability.

Before sending an employee a letter of dismissal in this scenario, an employer should give the employee a chance to be heard once the employee is notified dismissal is being considered, or risk not succeeding in their defence against a discriminatory dismissal claim.

DISCLAIMER –Discrimination in the Workplace Article

Please be advised that the above-mentioned material is intended as an overview and as a broad outline of the topic discussed. It should not be considered as complete and comprehensive legal advice, nor act as an appropriate substitute.

Due care has been taken in the publication of this article and we do not accept legal liability as a result of reliance on any material covered in the above article.

Discrimination at the Workplace

Employment Law Articles

Roger Cleary

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