Covid -19 and Discrimination in the Workplace (July 16th 2020)

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During Covid-19 Employers are still under a legal obligation to ensure decisions made in response to Covid-19 do not directly or indirectly discriminating against employees who have a protected characteristic covered by the Equality Act 2010.  These are age, sex, religion, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity, race, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and disability. As employees return to the workplace, employers are faced with decisions on which employees to return to the physical workplace, who gets what hours and who is to be made redundant, if any.

Example of Direct discrimination
Dismissing an employee who has been off work for a long period of time due to long term health and is now shielding.

Example of Indirect discrimination
A refusal to accept requests for flexible, home or part time working due to school closures where female employees could be disproportionately affected.

Each and every individual employee have their own needs.  Employers should  ensure that there are updated risk assessments undertaken to account for the disproportionate affect of coronavirus on certain groups including ethnic minorities, those who are older or pregnant and should plan on how to reduce the risks when undertaking a return to work plan following Covid-19.

Discrimination and reward
There may be feelings of unfairness in the workplace between those employees who have kept working and those who have been furloughed.   Some employers may attempt to lift morale by looking to reward those employees who remained working through covid-19.  This must be handled carefully as an employer who rewards staff for working through covid-19 will be directly discriminating against staff who are shielding because of a health condition or those who were furloughed.

Further advice

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article or require assistance in a return to work plan for your staff, please get in touch with our Employment Law Solicitor Sasha Brine by calling 07475069698