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Discrimination in the Workplace and Equal Pay

It is important that you, as an employee, understand your rights under anti-discrimination legislation. Discrimination law is a complicated and necessary area of law, offering protection to you from discrimination in the workplace. Under the main piece of anti-discrimination legislation, the Equality Act 2010, employers (or prospective or former employers) cannot discriminate on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marital status or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation.

The right to equal pay for equal work is also set out in the Equality Act 2010; it provides that men and women should receive equal payment for equal work. If a woman employee is not paid the same as her male colleague, her employer must show that there is a material factor that justifies the difference in pay.  If you believe that you are being paid less than your male counterpart you should seek legal advice.  

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to employment laws over work discrimination, and equal pay matters.

The main piece of legislation which deals with discrimination is the Equality Act 2010. This law came into force on 1 October 2010. Previously, much anti-discrimination legislation was spread out across a number of different laws. The Equality Act 2010 represented a consolidation of those laws into a single act.

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination in relation to nine ‘protected characteristics’:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Gender
  • Sexuality

Direct discrimination: With very few exceptions, your employer is always prohibited from discriminating against you on any of the above grounds as a direct result of your protected characteristic. For example, you cannot be refused a job because you are pregnant.

Indirect discrimination: If your employer adopts a provision, criterion or practice that is applied to all employees but disadvantages people who share a protected characteristic and which also disadvantages you because you have that protected characteristic, they must be able to demonstrate that this action is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. This is known as indirect discrimination and if your employer cannot justify that discrimination, this equates to a breach of the Equality Act 2010. Indirect discrimination does not apply to the pregnancy and maternity protected characteristics.

Yes. The Equality Act, which is the main anti-discrimination legislation also prohibits harassment and victimisation.

Harassment is described as unwanted conduct that relates to one of your protected characteristics (excluding pregnancy and maternity and marriage and civil partnership). The conduct has the effect of violating your dignity or creating an intimidating, degrading, humiliating, offensive or hostile environment.

Victimisation occurs if your employer treats you in a detrimental way because you intend to make or have made a complaint about discrimination or even have supported a colleague who has made a complaint. Your employer is not permitted to discipline or dismiss you if you have made a genuine complaint of harassment or victimisation.

Your employer should have in place a policy dealing with how you raise concerns about workplace discrimination. The first stop is usually to try and resolve issues informally by speaking to your line manager (or another manager if your line manager is involved in the discrimination). If that does not resolve your concerns about discrimination you should lodge a grievance. Your employer should arrange for your grievance to be investigated and you should be told of the decision on whether your grievance has been upheld and what your employer proposes to do to prevent further acts of discrimination against you.

Under employment laws, disabled employees have the right not to be dismissed or treated less favourably for reasons related to disability. If you suffer from a disability, your employer (whatever the size of the business) is under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to help remove that disadvantage even if that means treating you more favourably than others. There are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes a reasonable adjustment as it depends largely of the particular situation. Examples of reasonable adjustments include making adjustments to premises such as for wheelchair access, providing information in an accessible format or altering the disabled person’s hours of work.

However, your employer is not required to make any kind of adjustment for you. If the adjustment would represent a disproportionate burden on them, for example in terms of cost, if the adjustment would not be particularly effective in helping you, or if it would have a negative impact on your colleagues, they would not have to make it.

It is unlawful to pay a woman less than a man for carrying out work of equal value or work rated as equivalent under a job evaluation scheme. The difference in pay may be justified if your employer can show that there is a material reason for the material difference in pay that is not gender related. If your employer cannot justify the pay discrepancy then you will be entitled to challenge your employer, asserting your equal pay rights.

You should seek legal advice if you think that you are being paid less than a male colleague, if you both carry out equal work and are employed by the same employer or an associated employer.

No. Your employer cannot forbid you to discuss your salaries in order to find out whether pay inequality exists. Under employment laws, any clause or term in your contract of employment that tries to prohibit these discussions will be unenforceable.

How can Thorntons help?

At Thorntons, our specialist employment team has considerable experience in dealing with discrimination issues and we are well placed to help advise you if you feel you may be the victim of discrimination at work or gender pay inequality. Our Employment Law Solicitors can talk you through the steps available to you in relation to enforcing your employment rights in Scotland, and your right not to be discriminated against.

Call the Thorntons Employment Law team on 03330 430 350 to find out more about our services, or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you.

Depending on your case and circumstances, the first step is usually to arrange an appointment to come into one of our local offices to meet an Employment Law Solicitor to discuss your situation and the way forward. We will outline your options and, depending on your circumstances, we can look at various funding options to help with your case costs.

Please note we do not offer Legal Aid for this service.