Discrimination in Employment: who is protected and who is liable?
Employees and contract workers are primarily protected against unlawful discrimination. With regard to employment, both employees and job applicants are protected against discrimination by their potential employer, employer, or former employer.
Contract workers are protected against discrimination by the end user of their services. Other categories of protected persons include police, business partners, office holders, members of trade organisations and local authority members.
It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against its job applicants and employees. Similarly, other bodies can be primarily liable for discriminating against protected persons eg principals can be liable for discrimination against contract workers and training providers can be liable for discrimination against those seeking or undertaking vocational training.
Employers may be held liable for the wrongful actions of their employees or agents. Whilst it is commonplace for employees to pursue claims of unlawful discrimination against their employers where they have been unlawfully treated by a colleague, claims for unlawful discrimination can also be brought against the individual perpetrator.
Where an employer is potentially liable for discrimination committed by one of its employees in the course of their employment, there is a defence available if it can show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory act complained of.
Employers are therefore well advised to adopt sound equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies and ensure their managers receive equal opportunities training.