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Increase in employee discrimination enquiries to Equality Commission

There has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of calls made to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland’s discrimination advice line in the last 10 years.

The Equality Commission is a non departmental public body established by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 with powers and duties to provide protection against discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, political opinion, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation. It provides advice and support to employees with potential complaints and guidance to employers and service providers on their obligations under legislation.

The most common issue raised by callers was in respect of disability discrimination, with sex discrimination representing the second largest issue. The increase in calls undoubtedly reflects an improved awareness of employment rights among employees in Northern Ireland, but also highlights that many employers are still risking potential claims against them as a result of poor employment policies and procedures.

Dealing with disabled employees and pregnant employees, or those on or returning from maternity leave, are seemingly the areas that employers in Northern Ireland struggle with the most. To ensure good practice and compliance with their legal obligations employers need to understand their obligations to their employees and the different types of discrimination that exist.

So for example, when it comes to disability discrimination, employers need to be aware of the definition of disability, the need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for a disabled job applicant or employee, and understand the different forms of disability discrimination, including among others direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation. There are of course then other considerations when it comes to the different protected characteristics, and employers should always take expert legal advice when it comes to drafting employment policies or undertaking any procedures or redundancy process.

If you are an employer or employee requiring legal advice in respect of a potential discrimination claim contact one of the employment law solicitors at Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast by clicking here.

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