Employment Equality

What is meant by discrimination at work?

There is specific legislation that protects against discrimination in employment known as the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015. These protect individuals from certain kinds of discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, and victimisation that can happen in the workplace. This legislation also aims to promote equal workplace opportunities, for example when applying for work, while in a job, going for a promotion or getting equal pay.

How are employees protected against discrimination in the workplace?

The Act prohibits discrimination on nine specific grounds; therefore, employers cannot discriminate against employees in any aspect of the employment relationship on any of the following grounds:

  1. Gender: this means man, woman, or transgender
  2. Civil status: includes single, married, separated, divorced, widowed people, civil partner both current and former
  3. Family status: this refers to the parent of a person under 18 years or the resident primary carer or parent of a person with a disability
  4. Sexual orientation: includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual
  5. Religion: means religious belief, background, outlook, or none
  6. Age: this does not apply to a person aged under 16
  7. Disability: includes people with physical, intellectual, learning, cognitive or emotional disabilities and a range of medical conditions
  8. Race: includes race, skin colour, nationality, or ethnic origin
  9. Membership of the Traveller community.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) have a specific role in combatting discrimination and promote equal opportunities in the areas covered by the Equality Acts and to provide information on them. They produced a booklet that explains employee’s rights under the legislation. These are available in nine languages on their website.

What if my issue doesn’t fall into the nine grounds?

Not all differences of treatment are seen as discrimination under the legislation and accordingly if you feel you have been discriminated for another reason outside of the nine grounds the equality legislation will not be of assistance. Instead, you should contact your union representative as you may have a grievance or other industrial relations issue that they can assist you with.  

How do I show I have been discriminated against?

The claim must come under one of the 9 protected grounds and you have to show that the treatment you received is less favourable because you are a member of one of the grounds.

Am I entitled to speak in my own language at work?

Employees are entitled to speak their own language while at work. However, employment policies that require employees to speak English in the course of their work are also allowed if they are a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim.

What can I do if I want to make a complaint under this Act?

Discuss your issue first of all with your union representative. An effort should be made to resolve the matter with the employer, however if this is not successful or the time frame for making a complaint is running out, then the Act provides a right of complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission.

If you wish to make a complaint you need to let your union representative know as soon as possible as there is a six-month statute of limitations to lodge a claim and the union cannot be held liable for delays on behalf of the member. The union representative will examine your claim with you and will seek assistance from Union Head Office to determine next steps.

Can an employee be penalised for making a complaint under the Employment Equality Acts?

Penalising a person for making a complaint of discrimination or for giving evidence in someone else’s complaint or lawfully opposing unlawful discrimination is called victimisation and the Act specifically protects a person against such victimisation.

How is Sexual Harassment defined under the Employment Equality Acts?

Sexual Harassment is unlawful under the Employment Equality Acts and is defined as:

“Acts of physical intimacy or requests for sexual favour or words or gestures or the production, display or circulation of written words or pictures which, are unwelcome and which have the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.”

It is important to note that one incident is enough for a person to make a complaint of sexual harassment. Again, for assistance you can discuss this matter in confidence with your union representative.

How are employees protected against Harassment/Sexual Harassment under the Equality Acts?

Harassment is unlawful and is defined as any form of unwanted conduct related to any of the nine discriminatory grounds, which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.

Such unwanted conduct may consist of acts or requests, spoken words, gestures or the production, display or circulation of written words, pictures, or other material.