- Employment discrimination law in the United Kingdom
Employment discrimination law in the United Kingdom combats prejudice in the workplace. It protects discrimination against people based on gender, race, religion or belief, sexuality, disability and, most recently, age. There are also important provisions which deal with discrimination by an employer on the grounds of your work status as a part time worker, fixed term employee, agency worker or your union membership. It does not form anything like a coherent code, and it lacks consistency. [Collins et al (2005) 218-9] It is made up of various pieces of legislation which sometimes cover employment issues only, and sometimes are part of a larger equality framework (for instance in education or public authority benefits). Recently the government passed the
Equality Act 2006. But, as one academic has stated,
"despite its title it did not attempt to codify, standardise or simplify the complex and Byzantine provisions of anti-discrimination law: this task has been left to the ongoing Discrimination Law Review." [O’Cinneide, “The Commission for Equality and Human Rights: A New Institution for New and Uncertain Times” (2007)
Industrial Law Journal141]
A worker who has suffered discrimination at work can enforce their rights by taking the employer to an
Employment Tribunal. Dismissals which follow discriminatory action are considered automatically unfair under s.94 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. There are certain conditions that have to be fulfilled before this can happen, so it is generally recommended to seek advice before taking this type of action. Sources of advice include trade unions, ACAS, employment law solicitors and local Citizens Advice Bureau.
Anti-discrimination law is a recent development. The old common law approach, and Acts of Parliament were directly discriminatory. They engendered the old prejudices of a class based society which saw white, private school educated men as the only legitimate heirs to places of political and economic power. Slavery was abolished in the UK by a decision known as "
Somersett's case" in 1772. But for the colonies of the British Empireand its trade routes, slavery persisted until 1810. The old system of voting was based on how much property one possessed. Like all countries, religious discrimination was also rife, but particularly against Catholics and Jews. The Catholic Emanicpation Actsput an end to that only at the beginning of the 19th century.
It went without dispute that women were marginalised from general social participation. The first changes came at municipal level, particular in the Birmingham Municipal Council from the 1830s. The
Chartistsfrom the mid 19th century, and the Suffragettesafter the turn of the 20th century lobbied for universal suffrage against a conservative judiciary and a liberal political establishment. In " Nairn v. The University Court of the University of St Andrews" (1907) a judge called Lord McLaren even proclaimed that it is
"a principle of the unwritten constitutional law of this country that men only were entitled to take part in the election of representatives to Parliament." [(1907) 15 SLT 471, 473]
Representation of the People Act 1918gave the universal franchise to men, and knocked away the last barriers of wealth discrimination for the vote. But for women, only those over 30 were enfranchised, and the judiciary remained as conservative as ever. In " Roberts v. Hopwood" (1925) a metropolitan borough council had decided to pay its workers £4 a week, whether they were men or women. The House of Lords approved the district auditor's cancellation payment for being overly gratuitous, given working class conditions. Lord Atkinson said the council had allowed,
"allowed themselves to be guided in preference by some eccentric principles of socialistic
philanthropy, or by a feminist ambition to secure the equality of the sexes in the matter of wages in the world of labour." [" Roberts v. Hopwood"  AC 578, 594; this reversed a Court of Appeal judgment in favour of the council workers, led by the more formidable mind of Atkin LJ]
After a decade, the
Representation of the People Act 1928finally gave women the vote on an equal footing. Attitudes to racial prejudice in the law were set to change markedly with the proverbial " winds of change" sweeping through the Empire after World War II. As Britain's colonies won independence, many immigrated to the motherland, and for the first time communities of all colours were seen in London and the industrial cities of the North. The first statutes prohibiting racial discrimination followed the Civil Rights Act 1964in the United States. The Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975and the Race Relations Act 1976were passed by Harold Wilson's Labour government.
In 1972 Britain became a member of the
European Community, which became the European Unionin 1992 with the agreement of the Maastrict Treaty. The Conservative government opted out of the " Social Chapter" of the treaty which included provisions on which anti-discrimination law would be based. Although they passed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, it was not until Tony Blair's "New Labour" government won the 1997 election that the UK opted into the social provisions of EU law. In 2000 the EU overhauled and introduced new Directives explicitly protecting people with a particular sexuality, religion, beliefand age, as well as updating the protection against disability, raceand genderdiscrimination. The law is therefore quite new, and still in a state of flux. Between the EU passing directives, and the UK government implementing them, it is apparent that the government has often failed to offer the required minimum level of protection. There are likely to be more changes soon to iron out the anomalies.
Equality legislation in the UK lacks unity, as it does all around the world. A plethora of different statutes, secondary legislation, EU directives and Treaty provisions, all passed at different times, all with different frameworks, exceptions and language makes the full picture difficult to grasp. However, with recent EU Directives, there has been a concerted effort to provide standard definitions and to simplify. The three main Directives are the Equal Treatment Directive (2006/54/EC, for gender), the Racial Equality Directive (2000/48/EC) and the Employment Equality Framework Directive (2000/78/EC, for religion, belief, sexuality, disability and age). Where the UK already had legislation (as for gender, race and disability), this has been amended. And where it did not
secondary legislation- that is a regulation passed by a minister based on a power from the European Communities Act 1972- was introduced.
The basic framework in employment discrimination cases is that somebody claims they have been "treated less favourably" than someone who is (to take typical examples) not
female, Irish, Jewish, gay, handicappedor old. "Less favourable treatment" could be getting paid less, getting fired, or even not being hired because of one's status. To show this, one must find a "comparator". In reality it is much easier, say if you are a woman getting underpaid, to point to a real life man doing the same job getting 5% an hour more than you. But claimants can also allege unfair treatment by using a "hypothetical comparator". They may say "if I were a white Englishman, I would be paid more".
Discrimination law in Europe also distinguishes between "direct" and "indirect" discrimination.
Direct discriminationis overt, like an employer saying "I'm firing you because I don't like gays". This is never capable of justification, and is precisely the kind of mentality that discrimination law aims to stamp out hard. Indirect discrimination, however, can be just as bad but it comes in more subtle form. It involves the application of an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice to everyone, but it has a disproportionate effect on some people. For instance, an employer could have a rule that said "everyone must work on Sundays" or "applicants with red hairneed not apply". These rules would have greater impact on some people (religious people and people with white skin) more than others. But employers may always attempt to provide "objective justification" for the disparate treatment. They may be able to show that they were seeking to fulfil a legitimate aim (for Sunday work, the legitimate aim would be maintaining a running business to maximise customer service; for not hiring red haired people, there is unlikely to be any legitimate aim!). This is a matter or balance, and reasonableness. Judges will assess whether employers were acting in good faith, whether they looked at all the alternatives so as not to disadvantage anybody, and whether their policies are proportionate. The following table is an overview of the law, and some of its complications.
There are important differences between each bit of legislation's scope and effect. One of the most litigated questions is "what is being protected?" So the definition of "race" or "disability" will play an important part of whether someone who has been less favourably treated at work can claim for compensation. "
Harassment" means getting bullied, and suffering harassment gives rise to a separate claim for compensation. There is now a unified definition of harassment, which appears in all the sections. Harassment is,
"unwanted conduct... with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment." [Directive 2000/78/EC, Art.2(3)]
Victimisation" refers to suffering some further detriment after trying to complain or claim for initially bad treatment, and also forms a new head of compensation. The row on "Genuine occupational requirements" refers to exceptions to the prohibition on direct discrimination. An example could be a theatre saying "we need someone of African ancestry to play " Othello" at our performance." An employer has the burden of showing that they really, genuinely need somebody of a particular gender, race, religion, etc. for the job. These exceptions are few. The reference to "on grounds" of the gender, race, religion, etc. of the person, or generally is a current point of debate. The question is whether a person who is not female, Irish, Jewish, etc. can still claim for discrimination because of their association with somebody who is of a protected group. UK legislation, except race and sexuality, does not allow this. However a recent case in the European Court of Justiceis likely to decide that the legislation must be amended. Finally, the duty to accommodate refers to the idea that employers should actively pursue policies to accommodate protected groups into the workforce. This duty is made explicit in law for pregnant women and for people who are disabled. For people with religious sensitivities, particularly the desire to worship during work cases show there is no duty, but employers should apply their minds to accommodating their employee's wishes even if they ultimately decide not to.
The following six Acts apply not only to employment, but most aspects of life. Examples of prohibited discrimination include as customers, in social security, access to education and other public services.
In the UK, equality between sexes has been a principle of employment law on since the 1970s, when the
Equal Pay Act 1970and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975were introduced. Also, in 1972, the UK joined the European Community (now the EU). Article 141(1) of the Treaty of the European Communitystates,
"Each Member State shall ensure that the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value is applied."
Directive 2006/54/EC"on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation".
Protection from Harassment Act 1997
In the "Weaver v. NATFHE" race discrimination case (also known as the Bournville College Racial Harassment issue), an Industrial Tribunal decided that a trade union’s principal obligation in race harassment cases is to protect the tenure of the accused employee. A member of a trade union making a complaint of workplace harassment against a fellow employee was not entitled to union advice and assistance, irrespective of the merit of the case, because the employee complained against could lose his job. The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the decision and extended the decision to cover complaints of sexist harassment. [ [http://www.legalferret.net website for decision text] ]
Showboat Entertainment Centre Ltd v. Owens"  1 WLR 384
Weatherfield Ltd v. Sergeant"  ICR 425
Redfearn v. Serco Ltd."  IRLR 623
Mandla v. Dowell-Lee"  2 AC 548
Religion or belief
Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003SI 2003/1660 (in effect from 2 December 2003)
Discrimination on grounds of religion was previously covered in an ad hoc way for muslims and sikhs through the race discrimination provisions. The new regulations were introduced to comply with the EU Framework Directive 2000/78/EC on religion or belief, age, sexuality and disability.
Article 9 ECHR- Freedom of religion
Ahmad v. United Kingdom" (1982) 4 EHRR 126
Stedman v. United Kingdom" (1997) 23 EHRR CD 168
Copsey v. WWB Devon Clays Ltd"  IRLR 811
R (Begum) v. Headteacher and Governors of Denbigh High School" (2005) 2 All ER 396
Azmi v. Kirlees MBC"  IRLR 484
McClintock v. Department of Constitutional Affairs"  IRLR 29
Eweida v. British Airways plc" (2008) ET
Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003SI 2003/1661 (in effect from 1 December 2003)
Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations
Grant v. South West Trains"  ECR I-0621
Smith v. Gardner Merchant"  IRLR 510
Lustig-Prean and Beckett v. United Kingdom" (1999) 29 EHRR 548
MacDonald v. AG for Scotland"  IRLR 512
EOC v. Secretary of State for Trade and Industry"  IRLR 327
English v. Sanderson Blinds Ltd" 
*Disability Discrimination (Meaning of Disability) Regulations 1996, (SI 1996/1455) esp. rr.3-5
* [http://www.dwp.gov.uk/publications/dwp/2005/dda/ddaguidance.pdf Guidance on Matters to be Taken into Account in Determining Questions Relating to the Definition of Disability] from the
Department for Work and Pensions[http://www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2005/disability.asp website] , esp Part II, para A1; "a substantial effect [under s.1(1) DDA 1995] is one which is more than "minor" or "trivial", and provides that tribunals ought to have regard, in deciding whether an impairment has such an effect to" things like time for relevant activities, the way they are done, impairments' cumulative effects and the effects of behaviour and environment.
Chacon Navas v. Eurest Colectividades SA" (2007) All ER (EC) 59 (C-13/05)
Goodwin v. Patent Office"  ICR 302, on a paranoid schizonphrenic
Vicary v. British Telecommunications plc"  IRLR 680, per Morison J
Leonard v. Southern Derbyshire Chamber of Commerce"  IRLR 19
Attridge Law (a Firm) v. Coleman"  IRLR 88
Clark v. TDG Ltd (t/a Novacold Ltd)"  IRLR 318
Jones v. Post Office"  IRLR 384
Paul v. National Probation Service"  IRLR 190
Collins v. Royal National Theatre Board Ltd"  IRLR 395
*Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, SI 2006/1031
R (Carson and Reynolds) v. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions"  UKHL 37
Palacios de la Villa v. Cortefiel Servicios SA"  IRLR 989
Equality and Human Rights Commission
The main outcome of the
Equality Act 2006was the establishment of a new Equality and Human Rights Commission, subsuming specialist bodies from before. Its role is in research, promotion, raising awareness and enforcement of equality standards. For lawyers, the most important work of predecessors has been strategic litigation [This has been in decline recently; in 2005 the Commission for Racial Equalityonly funded three cases, [http://www.cre.gov.uk/downloads/ar05_main.pdf CRE, Annual Report 2005] (London: CRE, 2006) whereas up to 1984 it was funding one fifth of all claims.] (advising and funding cases which could significantly advance the law) and developing codes of best practice for employers to use. Around 20,000 discrimination cases are brought each year to UK tribunals.
It is important to note that discrimination law is "blind", in the sense that a white Englishman - who is also agnostic, heterosexual and young - could make discrimination claims if he is being treated less favourably than comparable people who are doing the same work as him but have some different characteristic.
Positive discrimination(or " affirmative action" as it is known in the US) to fill up diversity quotas, or for any other purpose, is prohibited throughout Europe, because it violates the principle of equal treatment just as much as negative discrimination. There is, however, a large exception. Suppose an employer is hiring new staff, and she has 2 applications where the applicants are equally qualified for the job. If the workforce does not reflect society's makeup (e.g. that women, or ethnic minorities are under-represented) then the employer may prefer the candidate which would correct that imbalance. But they may "only" do so where both candidates are of equal merit.
Work status protection
More recently, two measures have been introduced, and one has been proposed, to prohibit discrimination in employment based on atypical work patterns, for employees who are not considered permanent. The Part-time Workers Regulations and the Fixed-term Employee Regulations were partly introduced to remedy the pay gap between men and women. The reason is, women are far more likely to be doing non-full-time permanent jobs. However following the
Treaty of Amsterdam, a new Article 13 promised Community action to remedy inequalities generally. The abortive Agency Workers Directivewas meant to be the third pillar in this programme. Discrimination against union members is also a serious problem, for the obvious reason that some employers view unionisation as threat to their right to manage.
Part time workers
Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000, SI 2000/1551
Fixed term "employees"
Fixed Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002, SI 2002/2034
Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill 2008
Agency Workers Directive
Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants v. Osborne"  AC 87, Lords Shaw and James said trade union support for MPs was ‘unconstitutional and illegal’. Reversed in 1913.
Article 11 ECHR
Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998
;British and general pages
British labour law
UK agency worker law
Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill
* [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allgemeines_Gleichbehandlungsgesetz Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz] (the General Equal Treatment Act) on German Wikipedia
Employment equity (Canada)
Employment discrimination law in the United States
Equal Pay Act of 1963
Civil Rights Act of 1964, dealing with race, colour, religion, sex and national origin
Age Discrimination in Employment Actof 1967
Immigration Reform and Control Actof 1986, giving limited protection for immigrant status
Americans with Disabilities Actof 1990
Family and Medical Leave Actof 1993, protecting rights to leave in the event of pregnancy
Employment Non-Discrimination Act, proposed legislation to outlaw orientation and gender identity discrimination.
Hugh Collins, Keith Ewing, Aileen McColgan, "Labour Law, Text, Cases and Materials" (2005) Hart Publishing ISBN-10: 1841133620
Simon Deakin, Gillian Morris, "Labour Law" (2004) Hart Publishing
Lord Wedderburn, "The Worker and the Law" (1986) Sweet and Maxwell ISBN-10: 0421370602
Please note, the legislation listed below goes in order of European directives, followed by UK legislation and secondary instruments which implement them. In the case of the
Race Relations Act 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Equal Pay Act 1970and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, UK legislation came first, and in many instances goes further than the minimum requirements which European harmonisation aims at.
*Directive [http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/lex/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31997L0081:EN:HTML 97/81/EC] on Part time workers
Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000, [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2000/20001551.htm SI 2000/1551]
*Directive [http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31999L0070:EN:HTML 99/70/EC] on Fixed term workers
Fixed Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002, [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2002/20022034.htm SI 2002/2034]
Agency Workers Directive[http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:52002PC0149:EN:HTML COD 2002/0149]
Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, [http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmbills/027/08027.i-i.html text here] , a proposal which has currently (13/3/2008) passed its second reading. The government has announced it wishes to find a common European solution. See also, United Kingdom Agency worker law.
*Directive [http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31997L0080:EN:HTML 97/80/EC] , on the burden of proof in sex discrimination claims.
* [http://eur-lex.europa.eu/en/treaties/dat/12002E/htm/C_2002325EN.003301.html Treaty of the European Community] , whose Article 141 address equal pay between men and women. Article 13, introduced by the
Treaty of Amsterdamin 1996, is the basis for Directives 2000/78/EC and 2000/43/EC
** [http://www.opsi.gov.uk%2Facts%2Facts1970%2FPDF%2Fukpga_19700041_en.pdf Equal Pay Act 1970] as amended by the [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2003/20031656.htm The Equal Pay Act 1970 (Amendment) Regulations 2003] SI 2003/1656
*Directive [http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2006:204:0023:01:EN:HTML 2006/54/EC] , on the equal treatment of men and women in employment regarding the definitions of direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and provisions on maternity. It comes fully into effect in August 2008, and just does a consolidating job and repeals a number of previous Directives, including [http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31976L0207:EN:HTML 76/207/EEC] and [http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32002L0073:EN:HTML 2002/73/EC] .
** [http://www.uk-legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1975/pdf/ukpga_19750065_en.pdf Sex Discrimination Act 1975]
*Directive [http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32000L0043:EN:HTML 2000/43/EC] , the "Race Equality Directive", which harmonises European rules on discrimination in "race, ethnic or national origin".
Race Relations Act 1976, amended by the Race Relations Act 1976 (Amendment) Regulations 2003, [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/SI/si2003/20031626.htm SI 2003/1626] . Note, as a result of the amendments, the RRA 1976 has different tests for "colour and nationality" to the provisions on "race, ethnic and national origin".
;Religion, age, orientation and disability
*Directive [http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32000L0078:EN:HTML 2000/78/EC] , the "Employment Equality Directive", which spurred the implementation of regulations in Britain prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, age or sexual orientation.
**Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2007/uksi_20071263_en_1 SI 2007/1263]
**Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2003/20031660.htm SI 2003/1660]
**Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2006/20061031.htm#45 SI 2006/1031]
** [http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?activeTextDocId=3330327 Disability Discrimination Act 1995] n.b. the way this works was substantially amended (and not yet updated on any publicly available record, i.e. OPSI or Statutelaw.gov.uk. The amendments can be read under...
*** [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2003/20031673.htm Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment) Regulations 2003/1673]
* [http://www.uk-legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts1975/pdf/ukpga_19750065_en.pdf Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992]
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