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Limit risk of discrimination claims

26 September 2012

A recent discrimination claim brought against leading local employer GCHQ underlines the risks to businesses of discrimination in the workplace.

Alfred Bacchus, a press officer, brought a number of claims against GCHQ, the main element being for disability discrimination. He alleged that his acute anxiety amounted to a disability and he had suffered harassment by bosses as a result. He claimed he had felt sidelined after the appointment of a new head of strategic communications and that major projects he had been working on were taken from him. He also alleged that he was singled out and patronised as the only ethnic minority employee in the department.

Although GCHQ denied the allegations, the case settled for an undisclosed sum the day before the tribunal hearing.

Equality Act

Discrimination claims are made under this 2010 Act. Awards for successful claimants are uncapped and can run into six-figure sums.

The Act requires equal treatment in access to employment, regardless of the protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

Onus on employer

As the onus is on the employer to disprove allegations of discrimination, it pays to be two steps ahead. For example, ensuring that job ads, employee contracts and disciplinary & grievance meetings comply with the requirements of the Act will greatly reduce the risk of tribunal claims. Having the right documents in place demonstrates that an employer takes the law seriously and has complied with it.

It is also helpful to have a policy in place on how to deal with any allegations of discrimination. Should a complaint be made, this acts as a ready-made guide on handling difficult situations sensitively, swiftly and efficiently.

Being prepared is key

Much of employment law is about being prepared for all eventualities. The issue of discrimination is now such that it cannot be ignored by any employer, however small the workforce.

Businesses often accuse employment law of being overly burdensome and it’s certainly true that there is a lot for employers to be aware of. But on a costs-benefit analysis, the right in-house policies will go a long way in helping employers avoid the risk of having to defend a tribunal claim.

As always, if you need commercial and pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.

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Matthew Clayton MA LLM (Cantab), CIPP/E
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Mathew Clayton
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