Equality in British Employment Law

The principle that people should be judged according to the content of their character, and not another irrelevant status, is fundamental to UK and EU law. The Equality Act 2010 reaches beyond employment, into access to private and public services, but in the field of work it largely reflects the EU's case law and the Equal Treatment Directive for gender, the Racial Equality Directive and the Employment Equality Framework Directive for disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and age,ree major EU Equality Directives. Like former UK legislation, this set up mirrors much of the US Civil Rights Act 1964.

As it stands, the UK requires equal treatment based on ten major grounds. Beyond the absolute prohibition of discrimination against trade union members, the EA 2010 combats discrimination based on gender (including pregnancy), race, sexuality (including marital status), belief, disability and age. This is supplemented by milder regulation in statutory instruments of discrimination against people in atypical work, who are often minorities, with part-time, fixed term or agency work status. This ‘negative’ and fixed definition of equality stipulates which characteristics are generally to be disregarded in employment. It does not set out what positive characteristics are relevant, like unfair dismissal rules, or catch 'any other status', like the European Convention. Unequal treatment on other grounds (e.g. one's football team) will only be unlawful if one can claim unfair dismissal. A worker has generally to show that they were treated directly less favourably than another person who does not have their trait (e.g. sexuality or race), or that actions an employer applies to everyone have an indirectly disparate impact on people with their trait. Workers are also entitled to not suffer harassment at work, and if they bring a claim they should not be victimised, or suffer any other disadvantage for trying. Direct discrimination can be justified if the employer shows a status is a "genuine occupational requirement". Indirect discrimination can be justified if there is “objective justification” for the rule, generally based on business necessity. Age discrimination is seen as a special case, so it may always be objectively justified.

Equal pay between men and women has also, historically, been treated separately in law and follows differently worded legal requirements. The law on disability goes further than other categories by placing positive duties on employers to make reasonable adjustments to help disabled people. While UK and EU law presently only allow promotion of underrepresented groups if a candidate is equally qualified, there is an ongoing debate whether more “positive action” measures should be implemented, particularly to tackle the gender pay gap. If discrimination is proven, it counts as automatically unfair conduct in a tribunal hearing, and entitles a worker to quit and or claim damages.

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