Equality in the Workplace

This doesn’t just apply to gender

Posted on: 17/02/2016   By: Lee Rance

I was scouring the web recently looking for a good blog topic when I came across an article on International Workplace website about equality in the workplace. Although it’s not strictly health and safety related it could lead to health and safety problems in the long term.


The article focused on a supervisor at Starbucks who suffered from dyslexia. She had previously made it clear to Starbucks that she was dyslexic and had difficulties with word and numbers. One of her responsibilities was taking the temperature of fridges and water at specific times and entering the results in the duty roster. She made mistakes in entering the details due to her difficulties with reading, writing and telling the time and as a result was given lesser duties and was accused of falsifying documents.

The employee became extremely stressed and felt suicidal. She took Starbucks to an employment tribunal alleging disability discrimination and the tribunal found that the she had been discriminated against due to the effects of her dyslexia and that Starbucks had failed to make reasonable adjustments for her disability. It was also found that her employer appeared to have little or no understanding of equality issues and that they had victimised her.

This case highlights the importance of equality in the workplace and the need for Employers, to not only be aware of, but to meet the requirements of the UK Equality Act 2010. The characteristics that are protected by the Equality Act 2010 are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership (in employment only)
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Any employer or colleague that discriminates against you on these grounds is breaking the law.

Employees that are discriminated against in the workplace often have low morale and this effects productivity, so employers have a vested interest in making sure discrimination doesn’t happen.

There are a number of different forms of discrimination:

Direct discrimination – When one employee is treated less favourably than another because of a protected characteristic. For example, if a female job applicant gets passed over for a job in favour of a male applicant who is less suited for the role.

Indirect discrimination – When a policy or working condition puts someone with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage.  For example, requesting that all employees are clean shaven effectively puts members of some religious groups at a disadvantage.

Harassment –When an employee is exposed to offensive or intimidating behaviour. Even giving someone an undesirable nickname or making inappropriate jokes can be classed as harassment.

Victimisation – If you’re treated unfairly or put at a disadvantage because you have tried to take or taken action against discrimination. For example, if you were given a poor reference because you’ve made a complaint about discrimination.

In some cases discrimination can lead to health problems, causing stress, anxiety and depression.

If you think you’ve been unfairly discriminated against you can:

  • complain directly to the person or organisation
  • use someone else to help you sort it out (called ‘mediation’ or ‘alternative dispute resolution’)
  • make a claim in a court or tribunal

Until next time.

Lee Rance