Equality Law in Ireland
Equality law in Ireland is designed to prevent discrimination against people in various contexts. Discrimination simply means that a person is treated less favourably than another person in a similar context. It can arise in the workplace or between businesses and customers.
In addition the relevant Acts compel businesses or Bodies (e.g. a sport club or Government Agency) to provide reasonable accommodation, special treatment or facilities where this is necessary to accommodate a person with disabilities who needs to avail of the goods and/or services. Where this would cost more than a nominal cost the business is excused, however. What amounts to a nominal cost will depend on the circumstances such as the size of or resources available to the club or business in question.
In Ireland, currently the legislation for employees is comprised of the Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015. These Acts make it unlawful for employers and businesses to discriminate in a wide range of employment and employment-related areas. These activities include recruitment and promotion; equality of pay and working conditions and delivery of training or experience. It prohibits any dismissal on grounds of discrimination. It obliges employers to prevent harassment including sexual harassment. For the protections to be enforceable the discrimination must be based on one of the following:
- Gender: this means man, woman or transsexual
- Civil status: includes single, married, separated, divorced, widowed people, civil partners and former civil partners
- 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
- Sexual orientation: includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual
- Religion: means religious belief, background, outlook or none
- Age: this does not apply to a person aged under 16
- Disability: includes people with physical, intellectual, learning, cognitive or emotional disabilities and a range of medical conditions
- Race: includes race, skin colour, nationality or ethnic origin
- Membership of the Traveller community.
How is discrimination proven?
There can be two types of discrimination: direct discrimination and indirect discrimination. To successfully demonstrate direct discrimination, a direct comparison must be made. For example, to show different treatment to employees one of whom has a disability and another who has not, or between persons with different disabilities.
Indirect discrimination can be harder to establish. It can occur when a business operates policies that do not appear discriminatory on the face of it but when put into practice have the effect of discriminating against one group more than another e.g. members of the Travelling community or foreign nationals.
Sample cases that that can be taken:
- Equal pay: The legislation compels equal pay for equal work i.e. work that is the same, similar or work of equal value. It must be a term in any contract of employment. A failure to provide for equal pay can give rise to a claim that this action is based on any of the grounds of discrimination listed.
- Promotion: being passed over for promotion can also be considered an act of discrimination is it can be shown that it was the result of either direct or indirect discrimination. This is quite common where older employees are not considered for positions.
- Disability: Employers who fail to make reasonable accommodations for staff with disabilities, including access to employment, participation in the workplace, promotion, and training.
- Pregnancy: Again, quite common in workplaces can be pregnancy-related discrimination. Women who return to work can sometimes find their position altered or their terms of employment changed. This is expressly prohibited by law and can result in significant pay-out in compensation to the party affected.
- Harassment including sexual harassment at work that can be linked to any of the listed grounds above is a form of discrimination. Bullying also can be regarded as discrimination which comes under employment equality legislation. Both of these matters can be dealt with under Equality legislation as well as the Employment legislation.
- Victimisation: An often-lesser known ground of discrimination but which is protected by law is that which results from victimisation. Employees who bring claims, whom afterwards are subject to unfair treatment, unfavourable changes in their employment or even dismissal can seek compensation.
Where to Enforce?
Matters involving equality and discrimination are typically dealt with by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). The outcome of a successful discrimination case will result in an award for compensation to the Applicant and against the party found to have acted in a discriminatory fashion. It has the power to investigate, mediate between the parties and award compensation for unlawful discrimination.
Are there exemptions?
It should be known that the Acts do allow to some exemptions, in access to and use of goods and service, including indirect discrimination and discrimination by any association, sexual harassment and harassment, and victimisation. An example would be positive actions by a business to promote equality for disadvantaged persons or to cater for the special needs of persons. Another example would be acts that are required by another Irish or EU law. Such an act cannot be deemed to be discriminatory even if its effect is to differentiate between classes of people.
There are also specific exemptions to actions relating to nationality concerning the treatment by public authorities of certain foreign nationals.
It is not discrimination to refuse a social welfare payment to a person if that person is excluded from entitlement to the payment or benefit under social welfare law.
Choose the right team
At Abacus Legal we are connected to the leading employment and equality law solicitors in Ireland. Members are chosen for not only their proven expertise but also their track record in employment and equality law. We have experts available to us in every part of the country. If you feel that you have been the victim of discrimination then you should get in touch today and one of our team will be more than happy to discuss matters with you.
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