The Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 (Ireland) provide that one should not be discriminated against on grounds of gender, marital status, family status, age, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or membership of the Traveller community. So in theory the law protects us from discrimination.
Discrimination in an employment context means treating one person less favourably than another for reasons other than that person’s ability to do the job. Discrimination may be direct or indirect ie. where an employment practice has a disproportionate adverse effect on a group.
If a person thinks that they have suffered discrimination they should make a complaint to the Equality Tribunal. The Equality Authority provides information and support and the Equality Tribunal investigates actual cases.
The main aims of the Employment Equality Act are to
1) promote equality
2) prohibit discrimination
3) prohibit sexual harassment and harassment
4) prohibit victimisation
5) require appropriate measures for people with disabilities in relation to access, participation and training in employment
Of course in reality people want to hold onto their jobs especially at the present time when jobs are hard to come by. People who are being bullied at work tend to put up with the situation because they want to feed their families and pay the mortgage. They do not want the hassle of challenging their employers, being ostracized by their colleagues and becoming the subject of canteen gossip and worst of all, losing their job.
Rather than follow the letter of the law wouldn’t it be wonderful if employers decided to treat their people well, listened to their concerns and behaved like genuinely decent people! We have all had employers who thought very highly of themselves, were always right and expected the workers to follow their every (unreasonable?) command.
People who are being bullied suffer real emotional distress. They have a number of choices, the main one being whether to stay in the job or to leave. One must protect one’s own mental health but on the other hand it is not easy to pay the bills if you are on the dole. Taking a case against one’s employer may drag on for years and the question is… will it be worth it?
The Equal Status Act prohibits discrimination in the provision of goods and services, accommodation and education. For example there have been cases where travellers have been refused service in pubs and they have been awarded compensation under the Equal Status Act. I remember there was also a case a few years ago where a woman in her 60’s was refused a car loan by a Bank on grounds of her age and that caused a rumpus.
Both Acts allow positive measures in respect of advertising, equal pay, access to employment, vocational training and work experience, terms and conditions of employment, promotion, classification of posts, dismissal and collective agreements.
If you find yourself in a situation of discrimination at work you will be weighing up your options and trying to decide whether it is worthwhile taking a case against your employer. There is no easy answer.