The Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race and religion at work.
Section 6 of the Equality Acts 1998 states:
‘’Discrimination shall be taken to occur where, on any of the grounds in subsection (2) (in this Act referred to as “the discriminatory grounds”), one person is treated less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated’’.
The ‘’discriminatory grounds’’ include race and religion and are specified in the Act as follows:
(e) that one has a different religious belief from the other, or that one has a religious belief and the other has not (in this Act referred to as “the religion ground”),
(h) that they are of different race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins (in this Act referred to as “the ground of race”).
Direct discrimination can be justified in very limited circumstances and indirect discrimination may be objectively justified if an employer can show it had a legitimate aim and acted proportionately.
The purpose of the Equality Acts is to obligate employers provide equal treatment in the workplace and so that employees have legal rights which they can invoke once discrimination at work arises.
European Court of Justice Ruling
A case that came before the European Court of Justice may have implications for our national courts. In A. & A. v G.S.S. the European Court of Justice decided upon a case regarding whether a prohibition on wearing an Islamic head scarf could constitute direct discrimination at work, in circumstances where the employer expressly prohibited the display or wearing of any “political, philosophical or religious symbols while at work”.
The E.C.J. noted equal treatment means there can be no discrimination on the grounds of religion.
The E.C.J. held that the employer’s rule applied to all employees of the company in the same manner by requiring them to dress neutrally. Consequently, the rule did not create a difference of treatment that was directly based on religion and so did not constitute direct discrimination.
How our national courts will implement this E.C.J. decision is going to be interesting.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is race discrimination at work ?
The Employment Equality Act defines discrimination as treating a person in a less favourable way to another person based on several grounds, including race, skin colour, ethnic origin, or nationality.
An employee is said to be discriminated against if they are treated less favourably than another person in the workplace due to an immutable attribute like skin colour or race.
Racial discrimination and race-based prejudice can undermine productivity and evidently negatively affects an outward looking and open economy such as ours. Many ethnic minorities may feel alienated or underappreciated in their job roles, which will contribute to their feelings of dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction can translate to high turnover.
What sorts of race discrimination at work are there ?
An example of workplace discrimination is a scenario where you are disrespected and treated less favourably to other employees of one ethnic origin due to your race/nationality/colour. Legislation further provides legal protection for employees discriminated against due to gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age and disability.
It also goes beyond behaviour, including hiring and firing practices. To further understand race-based discrimination in the workplace, you will need to understand the distinction between direct and indirect discrimination.
Direct discrimination is when a person in the workplace is treated less favourably than another person in the same situation or circumstance. Direct discrimination can include discrimination in collective agreements, by employment agencies, in advertising products, and vocational training. Direct discrimination can manifest itself as an order given by a supervisor to a subordinate to discriminate against another employee. Direct discrimination is straightforward and is the type of discrimination that most people are able to easily recognize.
Indirect discrimination is a bit more insidious. It can occur where the employer applies a condition to everyone in the workplace but exempts certain groups or has conditions that fewer groups of one race are able to comply with.
A clear example of indirect discrimination includes job advertisements that suggest that applicants have to be of a certain race. They may not explicitly say or define a certain race or group of people, but they use language that includes and excludes certain people. The rationale for this requirement has to be objectively justified by the employer.
What can I do about race discrimination at work ?
If you’re an employee and have been on the receiving end of racially based discrimination, then you are entitled to take legal action invoking rights under the Equality Acts. In those circumstances you must file a complaint with the Workplace Relations Commission.
It is best to file complaints with the Workplace Relations Commission as soon as possible since there are very strict time constraints. You have up to six months after the act of discrimination to file a complaint.
Please be advised that the above-mentioned material is intended as an overview and as a broad out-line of the topic discussed. It should not be considered as complete and comprehensive legal advice, nor act as an appropriate substitute. Legal advice should be sought from a solicitor prior to relying on anything in this article.
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.