The month of March 2017 has been interesting in respect of the level of media coverage of discrimination in the workplace and as a whole.
In the UK the Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of their protected characterises; namely age, disability, gender (including gender-reassignment), marriage or civil partnership, race, religion and sexual orientation.
The month of March 2017 began with the consideration of - people with learning disabilities to work for less than the minimum wage. Nearly 1.4 million people in the UK have learning disability; 1.3 million of which are unemployed. The October 2016 Department of Work and Pensions Green Paper, Improving Lives, states: ‘The evidence is clear that work and health are linked.’ It is an accepted fact that the longer an individual is out of work, the more their health and wellbeing is likely to deteriorate. But it barely focuses at all on people with a learning disability. They are instead in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance benefits which are little practical support to help them enter the working life.
Rosa Monckton, a mother of a child with a learning disability has stated in The Spectator article that “this is not about the right to a minimum wage, it is about the right to have the human dignity that comes with work, and with being included.”
It can arguably be said that the UK rules act as an obstacle rather than a protection for people with learning difficulties. Whilst this may be the case, UK employment laws are unlikely to accommodate such views because regardless the rationale, these views amount to direct discrimination.
Mid- March, the Independent reported on sex discrimination in the workplace, where two employees of opposite sex did an email experiment by swapping their signatures so it appeared to their business clients that they were dealing with a male staff when in reality it was a female staff and vice versa, for a week. The result of this experiment was that the female employee had the most productive week whilst the male employee felt he was in hell as the client was just being impossible, rude and dismissive. Nicole Hallberg along with her supervisor, Martin Schneider conducted this experiment after being subjected to a series of sex discrimination at their workplace. Nicole was explicitly told by her boss “I wasn’t going to consider hiring any females.” She was also sent on rigorous training, was talked over and ignored on a daily basis. She had no option but to resign.
Martin tweeted about their experiment and other social sites highlighting how differently women are treated to men, making it impossible for professional women to get the respect they deserve.
Last week, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled a Burka ban in a workplace is legal. The ECJ's ruling was prompted by the case of a receptionist who was dismissed for wearing a headscarf to work at the security company G4S in Belgium. Whilst this may in fact be direct discrimination, the court ruled in favour of the company due to the internal company rules that required all employees to dress neutrally. It said "an employer's desire to project an image of neutrality towards both its public and private sector customers is legitimate" - but national courts had to make sure this policy of neutrality was applied equally to all employees. Nonetheless, the ECJ did clarify that preventing an employee from manifesting her religion cannot be based on the wishes of a customer. There MUST be an internal company policy.
In essence, if the company policies apply equally to all religions ECJ will permit discrimination.