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What is discrimination in the workplace and what can we do to prevent it?

Employment equality is essential in every workplace.

Failing to treat your employees fairly can lead to serious consequences, such as resignations or even costly claims in the Workplace Relations Commission.

Additionally – an open, harmonious workplace that values equality and diversity will ensure a much happier and productive work environment.

What is discrimination in the workplace?

Discrimination in the workplace is where one person is treated less favourabley than another person.. Employment equality legislation sets out nine grounds for discrimination in Ireland.

  • Gender
  • Civil status.
  • Family status.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Religious beliefs.
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Membership of the Traveller community.

The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 is the primary anti-discrimination act in Ireland. This act prohibits discrimination under the above nine specific grounds.

Under employment equality legislation, your business must adhere to the specific anti-discrimination provisions set out in the statute. This means that not all forms of discrimination are covered under the employment equality acts.

Part-time and fixed-term employees also have legal protections from discrimination under the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001 and the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act 2003, respectively.

Types of discrimination

There are different types of discrimination and some types of discrimination are harder to identify than others. There are several types that may happen, sometimes unintentionally.

Direct discrimination tends to be easier to identify as it will involve a clear case of different treatment.

Direct: When an individual receives blatant different treatment based on any of the nine grounds.

Indirect discrimination occurs when a policy that appears to treat all employees equally in fact excludes certain people from accessing employment or enjoying employment rights that others enjoy.

Indirect: This is a practice or policy that accidentally treats an individual less favourably.

So familiarising yourself with these to ensure you have policies in place that celebrate diversity and encourage fairness between colleagues will ensure that you are not at risk of discrimination.

If  discrimination occurs, it can result in a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission — legal costs, management time and a negative reputation for your business are the potential risks and costs that you may incur.

There is also positive discrimination where a business shows favourable treatment towards a minority group within one of the nine grounds. Positive discrimination generally consists of employers taking steps that promote equality for all their employees. Employers have no legal obligation to implement positive anti-discrimination measures.

How to Prevent Workplace Discrimination?

Here are a few tips we suggest to prevent workplace discrimination:

  1. Develop a written policy that clearly defines the company policies and procedures.

Creating a clearly written policy is the first step toward preventing discrimination at work. This is just one of the reasons it is important to develop an employee handbook. Every handbook should include a policy on discrimination that every employee receives and signs an acknowledgment of receipt. Your policy should cover a broad range of potential discriminatory acts and include a protocol that outlines how discrimination complaints are submitted, handled, and resolved.

  1. Establish a consistent process for resolving discrimination issues.

Resolving issues quickly and fairly is incredibly important—even if your business isn’t in legal jeopardy, a lingering workplace discrimination issue can lead to losing trust and credibility with your employees. Consistency in how you address and resolve issues shows that you expect everyone to be treated fairly and by the same standards regarding discrimination. While there is no single “right” procedure for workplace discrimination, it is important to establish a process that fits your organisation’s size, structure, and resources.

  1. Continually educate employees on their role in preventing discrimination.

For most businesses, addressing the issue in the employee handbook and onboarding process isn’t enough. It is important to ensure that employees are aware of your policies and procedures and know how to report allegations. It is also recommended that you conduct a separate or enhanced program for supervisory or managerial employees, as they are often your first line of defence in preventing workplace discrimination.

Our Team at Voltedge Management is here to help, we frequently run Dignity at Work workshops with our clients – for management teams and teams of employees. We also advise on policies and practices to ensure employers are compliant with the law and that there are good processes internally to support an open, harmonious workplace that values equality and diversity. Please don’t hesitate to contact us on or call our office on 01 5252914.

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