Identity is a key issue in today’s world, especially when it comes to an individual’s rights. Transgender matters are hitting the news, here in the UK and internationally, because of the whole question of discrimination against transgender people.
Recently, a Jersey-based ferry company was found guilty of both direct and indirect discrimination resulting from a case brought by a transgender woman. She had been advised by a member of staff on board a ferry to use the disabled toilets.
Awareness and Choice
Ignorance is not a valid defence against direct or indirect discrimination. A lack of employee awareness is an inadequate excuse. The best employment practice should mean ensuring that all staff are aware of how to address a diverse range of people, and any issues arising from that diversity.
The suggestion regarding using the disabled toilets was ruled to be direct discrimination. The indirect discrimination charge came from the use of the words “ladies” and “gents” on the ferry toilets. With signs, the advice from inclusivity experts is to move away from words to symbols.
The Wider View
Sometimes discrimination is easy to detect; if someone is prevented from doing something, or going somewhere because of their sexuality or race, for example. But besides the issue of being treated differently because of who they are, there is indirect discrimination to consider.
There may be occasions where it appears everyone is being treated equal, but in fact this treatment may have a different, and worse, effect on certain people because of who they are. This can amount to indirect discrimination and it is something businesses and organisations need to be very aware of.
In business, there are policies, practices and rules that are both formal and informal, but they can all potentially be the source of unlawful indirect discrimination. The transgender issue has made the headlines, but there are plenty of other ways in which companies can come unstuck over discrimination.
For businesses to avoid finding themselves liable under the 2010 Equality Act, they should periodically review their policies, practices and rules, and seek professional HR advice when doing so.