Discrimination in The Workplace

The Employment Equality Act, 1998 which outlaws discrimination in employment on a number of specified grounds, as set out below, affects every employer in the state. The Act also provides that employers may be found vicariously liable for the discriminatory actions of an employee towards a fellow employee.

Breach of the Act may lead to industrial relations problems for employers in addition to other financial implications. Furthermore, it may result in adverse publicity and lead to difficulties in recruitment. It is of extreme importance for employers to put in place systems and procedures to accord with legislation and minimise their exposure to claims and Healy O’Connor Solicitors provide the appropriate legal advice in this regard.

A person is said to be directly or indirectly discriminated against if he/she is treated less favourably than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation on any of the following 9 grounds:

  1. Gender. It should be noted that this includes discrimination faced by a female employee during pregnancy or on her return from maternity leave.
  2. Marital Status
  3. Family Status
  4. Sexual Orientation
  5. Religion
  6. Age (does not apply to a person under 16)
  7. Disability
  8. Race
  9. Membership of the Traveller community

Forms of Discrimination

Bullying

“Bullying is repeated inappropriate behaviour that undermines your right to dignity at work. It is usually done by one person and aimed at a person or group to make them feel inferior to other people. Bullying can be verbal bullying, physical bullying or otherwise.”

If a person is being bullied at work in relation to one of the 9 discriminatory grounds it is covered by the Employment Equality Acts and can be taken to the Equality Tribunal. If a claim does not relate to one of the discriminatory grounds then it is a Health & Safety issue.

Harassment

Harassment is defined by The Employment Equality Acts 1998 and 2004 as “unwanted conduct” which is related to any of the 9 discriminatory grounds. Unwanted conduct refers to spoken words, gestures or the production and display of unwritten words, pictures and other material. Sexual harassment is any form of “unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature”.

Harassment at work can be inflicted by a fellow worker, a boss, a superior, a client, a customer or any business contact. An employer should have a policy setting out the guidelines for what is considered appropriate behaviour.

If an employee is being harassed at work in relation to one of the 9 discriminatory grounds it is covered by the Employment Equality Acts and can be taken to the Equality Tribunal. If a claim does not relate to one of the discriminatory grounds then it is a Health & Safety issue.

Complaints procedure

Complaints may be brought to The Equality Tribunal and Healy O’Connor Solicitors provide representation at The Equality Tribunal in relation to these matters. The time limit imposed for submitting a claim in relation to discrimination in the workplace is 6 months; however it may be extended to 12 months if “reasonable cause” for the delay can be shown.

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