Equality & Discrimination: Are We Following Best Practice?

Equality and discrimination are fundamental fairness issues in any redundancy situation.  If handled badly, consequences can be costly, time consuming and stressful.  They can have real financial costs that are easy to underestimate, plus serious reputational damage to the business. 

But your organisation doesn’t need to worry about that… does it?

What is Discrimination?

ACAS defines discrimination as when someone is treated unfairly for reasons of the nine ‘protected characteristics’ in law, specifically: 

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership
  • pregnancy or maternity
  • Race (including colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin)
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

It’s unlawful for anyone to treat you unfairly because of these characteristics, though there are some rare circumstances where discrimination may be allowed under law.

Types of Discrimination 

According to ACAS the various forms of Discrimination fall broadly under two headings:

  • Direct Discrimination

    “Direct discrimination is when someone is treated unfairly because of a protected characteristic, such as sex or race.”

    e.g. someone is overlooked for promotion because they’re a woman and the job goes to a less qualified man.”
  • Indirect Discrimination

    “Indirect discrimination can happen when there are rules or arrangements that apply to a group of employees or job applicants, but in practice are less fair to a certain protected characteristic.”

    e.g. If a company requires applicants to have 10 years of experience, they may be indirectly discriminating against younger applicants.

How widespread is redundancy discrimination?

According to a Nuffield-funded Covid-19 social study by researchers from University College London, “A quarter of people in the UK report experiencing some kind of discrimination since lockdown began.”  

Job role gender stereotypes are a typical area where direct or indirect discrimination can apply.  Research shows that discrimination may start long before a person is even in the workplace and is an issue that schoolteachers and careers advisers must challenge. 

Additionally, “the unemployment rate or BME workers has risen at more than twice the speed of the unemployment rate for white workers,” according to a TUC analysis of figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in February 2021, with TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady quoted as saying: “This pandemic has held up a mirror to the structural racism in our labour market – and wider society.”

With one in four experiencing some form of discrimination, care needs to be taken to ensure such issues do not transfer over to the redundancy process. 

So each time we think we may have got an equality or discrimination issue ‘right’ in a redundancy situation, perhaps that’s when we should stop and reflect on how we are doing things – to ensure we really are adhering to best practice to the principles we believe we’re implementing.


For more information about Discrimination, visit the ACAS website

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