The sensitivity of discrimination

Equal Opportunities and related legislation has become a topical, and much publisized, issue in recent years. Employers are now spending vast amounts of money and time to educate all levels of employees from managements to part-time employees in the area of Equal Opportunities and discrimination. This is to ensure that managers are aware of the implications, and also to communicate to all employees the company stance on discrimination and how it can be reported.

Throughout my 20-year career I have made the transition from Trade Union representative to Human Resources Practisioner, during which time I have gained an understanding of the sensitivity of discrimination. The aim of this is to illustrate my understanding of Equal Opportunities and highlight the importance of a policy to our organisation. Discrimination of any type must be dealt with sensitivity, dignity, understanding and confidentiality. What is "workplace banter" to one individual can be physically, mentally, or both, damaging to another.

It is in an organisations best interest to have a detailed Equal Opportunities policy. Also to ensure that not only are all managers trained in dealing with issues related to this field but that all levels of employees are aware how to report discrimination and how it will be dealt with. Discrimination can be either direct or indirect. "Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated les favourably on the grounds of sex or race" (Lockton 92:1996). In Grieg V Community Industries (1979) the applicant was on a work experience scheme for painting and decorating.

She was withdrawn from the scheme when the only girl left "for her own good". It was held that she had suffered direct discrimination and the motive behind the action was irrelevant. "Indirect discrimination is discrimination against a particular sexual or racial group which prejudices the complainant"(Lockton 98:1996). In the case of Price v CSC (1978) the imposition of an age requirement of 17 1/2 to 28 for promotion to executive officer was held to be indirect discrimination as more women than men would be out of the labour market between those ages to have children.

Such age limits could also be indirect race discrimination, if potential applicants were immigrants who were unlikely to have had necessary qualifications for the job by the age of 28, because they had entered the educational system at a later age than the indigenous populationTo assist us in understanding the complexity of Equal Opportunities let us take a look at the legislation that governs this area and applies to our organisation. I have included a few examples of cases in order to put the legislation into context. "Like work"-work which is the same or broadly similar.

In the case of Capper Pass v Lawton (1977) Lawton was employed as a cook working 40 hours a week being in sole charge of preparing daily lunches for 10-20 directors and their guests. She brought an equal pay claim, comparing her job to those of two male assistant chefs. They worked a basic 40-hour week with 5. 5 hours of regular weekly overtime, and they worked one weekend in three. They prepared 350 meals each day in two sittings . the tribunal held that the cook and assistant chefs did "like work" and hence an equal pay claim was upheld.

Work rated equivalent under a job evaluation scheme. Springboard Sunderland Trust V Robson (1992)-Mrs R was a Team leader and she compared her terms and conditions to Mr R, an induction officer. Following a job evaluation process carried out by the employer, Mrs R's job was evaluated at 410 points and Mr R's at 428 points. The company-grading scheme stated that jobs with between 360 and 409 points were grade 3 and jobs with between 410 and 439 points were grade four. However, the company continued to treat Mrs R as a grade three.

The tribunal found that Mrs R had to be treated as a grade four in accordance with the evaluation process. Work of equal value in terms of demands made. Hayward V Camel Laird (1984). Hayward was a cook employed in a shipyard. She claimed her work was of equal value to painters, insulation engineers and joiners working on the same site. The Tribunal appointed an independent expert who carried out an investigation into the claim. He supported Hayward and the claim for equal pay was allowed.