9 Grounds of Discrimination

In an effort to promote equality and combat discrimination, Ireland has enacted significant legislation, namely the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2018 and the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015. These acts provide a comprehensive framework to address discrimination based on nine protected grounds and ensure that individuals are treated fairly and equally in both public and employment spheres. These grounds cover a wide range of personal characteristics, and employers must ensure that they do not discriminate against employees or job applicants on any of these grounds.

9 Grounds of Discrimination

9 Grounds of Discrimination – Gender:

Employers are prohibited from treating employees unfairly based on their gender. This encompasses all aspects of employment, including recruitment, promotion, and conditions of employment. ‘Gender’ discrimination covers men and women. Discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity leave is also defined as gender discrimination. Under EU law a transgender person who experiences discrimination arising from their gender reassignment, or transition, is protected under the gender ground.

9 Grounds of Discrimination – Civil Status:

Discrimination on the grounds of civil status is also prohibited. This happens where there is less favourable treatment of one person compared to another person because they are of different civil status. This includes individuals who are single, married, separated, divorced, widowed, or in a civil partnership. Employers must ensure that all employees, regardless of their civil status, are treated fairly and equally.

9 Grounds of Discrimination – Family Status:

Discrimination on the ‘family status ground’ occurs where there is less favourable treatment of one person compared to another person because one person has a family status and the other does not, or has a different family status. ‘Family status’ means responsibility as a parent or person in loco parentis for a person under the age of 18 years or responsibility as a parent or resident primary carer of a person of 18 years or over with a disability requiring care or support. Employers cannot discriminate against employees based on their family status. This is designed to prevent bias against individuals with family responsibilities.

9 Grounds of Discrimination – Sexual Orientation:

Discrimination on the ‘sexual orientation ground’ happens where there is less favourable treatment of one person compared to another person because they are of different sexual orientation. ‘Sexual orientation’ is defined as heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual. Employers must not discriminate against employees on the grounds of their sexual orientation, ensuring a workplace free from bias and prejudice.

9 Grounds of Discrimination – Religion:

Discrimination on the ‘religion ground’ happens where there is less favourable treatment of one person compared to another person because one has a different religious belief, background or outlook from the other, or that one has a religious belief, background or outlook and the other has not. Employers cannot treat employees unfairly based on their religious beliefs or lack thereof. This protection extends to all religions and philosophical beliefs.

9 Grounds of Discrimination – Age:

Discrimination on the ‘age ground’ occurs where there is less favourable treatment of one person compared with another person because they are of different ages. Age discrimination is addressed in Irish employment law to ensure that individuals of all age groups are treated fairly. ‘Age’ refers to the protection against age-related discrimination in employment and applies only to employees over the maximum age at which a person is statutorily obliged to attend school. Whether young or old, employees should not face discrimination based on their age, particularly in areas like recruitment, training, and promotion.

9 Grounds of Discrimination – Disability:

Discrimination on the ‘disability ground’ occurs where there is less favourable treatment of one person compared to another person because one has a disability and the other has not, or the other has a different disability. Irish employment law places a strong emphasis on promoting equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities. ‘Disability’ is defined broadly and includes a disability which exists, which previously existed, which may exist in the future, or which is imputed to a person. Discrimination on the grounds of disability is explicitly prohibited, and employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to facilitate employees with disabilities.

9 Grounds of Discrimination – Race:

Discrimination on the ‘race ground’ occurs where there is less favourable treatment of one person compared to another person because they are of different race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins. Like others, this protection extends to all aspects of employment, ensuring a diverse and inclusive work environment.

9 Grounds of Discrimination – Membership of the Traveller Community:

Discrimination on the ‘Traveller community ground’ occurs where one person is treated less favourably than another because one is a member of the Traveller community, and the other is not. The Employment Equality Acts also specifically prohibit discrimination based on membership of the Traveller Community. ‘Membership of the Traveller community’ means a member of the community of people who are commonly called Travellers and who are identified (both by themselves and others) as people with a shared history, culture and traditions including, historically, a nomadic way of life on the island of Ireland. This protection is in place to address historical inequalities and promote fair treatment for individuals from the Traveller community in the workplace.

Discrimination Definition

The Equal Status Acts 2000-2018 define discrimination as the treatment of a person in a less favourable way than another person is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation. These Acts prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods and services, accommodation and education, while the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 outlaw discrimination in work-related areas such as pay, vocational training, access to employment, work experience and promotion. Cases involving bullying, harassment and victimisation at work are also covered by the Acts.

The Acts recognise and define different types of discrimination.

Different Types of Discrimination

  • Direct Discrimination: Occurs where a person is treated less favourably on one of the nine grounds in a situation that exists, existed or may exist in the future or is imputed to a person.
  • Indirect Discrimination: Defined as occurring where an apparently neutral provision puts a person who is a member of one of the nine groups at a particular disadvantage because of being a member of that group, unless the provision is objectively justified by a legitimate aim, and the means of achieving the aim are appropriate and necessary.
  • Discrimination by Association: Occurs where a person has been treated less favourably by their association with another person, and similar treatment towards the other person would be considered discrimination.
  • Harassment: Any form of unwanted conduct related to any of the discriminatory grounds being conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.
  • Sexual Harassment: Any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, with the same purpose or effect as ordinary harassment.
  • Bullying: Defined as repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work.
  • Victimisation:
    •  Victimisation occurs where dismissal or other adverse treatment of an employee occurs as a reaction to:
    • A complaint of discrimination made by the employee;
    • Any proceedings by a complainant;
    • An employee having represented or otherwise supported a complainant;
    • The work of an employee having been compared with that of another employee;
    • An employee having been a witness in any proceedings under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 or the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2018.
    • An employee having opposed by a lawful means an act that is unlawful under the Employment Equality Acts or the Equal Status Acts;
    • An employee having given notice of intention to do any of the above.

Exclusions and Exemptions

The Employment Equality Acts pose different exceptions and exclusions to different provisions based on protected grounds. For example, it will not be discriminatory practice to choose someone of a particular gender for a post where the characteristic constitutes a genuine and determining occupational requirement for the post (such as requirement for authenticity in the entertainment jobs) or where the objective is legitimate, and the requirement proportionate. It is also not unlawful to arrange or provide treatment that confers greater benefit on women in connection with pregnancy or adoption matters.

Discrimination on the age ground does not arise if an employer provides for different persons different rates of remuneration, or different terms and conditions of employment if the difference is based on their relative seniority (or length of service).  Some exclusions in the legislation not deemed to be discriminatory include employer’s requirements of residency, citizenship and proficiency in the Irish language for public service employment. It is also not discriminatory to require educational qualifications which are generally accepted for particular jobs.

Employing People with Disability

For the purposes of the Acts, disability means:

  • the total or partial absence of a person’s bodily or mental functions, including the absence of a part of a person’s body;
  • the presence in the body of organisms causing, or likely to cause, chronic disease or illness;
  • the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of a person’s body;
  • a condition or malfunction that results in a person learning differently from a person without the condition or malfunction; or
  • a condition, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgment, which results in disturbed behaviour.

This shall be taken to include a disability that at present exists, or which previously existed but no longer exists, or which may exist in the future, or which is imputed to a person.

Legislation permits positive action in relation to employees with a disability. It is not discriminatory to prevent or compensate for disadvantages linked to any of the discriminatory grounds, including disability; to protect the health and safety of persons with a disability; or to create or maintain facilities for safeguarding the integration of people with a disability into the working environment.

The employer is required to take appropriate measures of reasonable accommodation to enable a person with disability to have access to employment, to participate or advance in employment, or to undergo training. Employers are required to do so unless such accommodation imposes a disproportionate burden on the employer, such as financial or other costs entailed. Appropriate measures can include the adaptation of premises and equipment, patterns of working time, distribution of tasks or the provision of training or integration resources, but does not include any treatment, facility or thing that the person might ordinarily or reasonably provide for himself or herself.

9 Grounds of Discrimination – Conclusion

Understanding the 9 grounds of discrimination in Irish employment law is essential for employers. By promoting equality and diversity, employers need to aim to create a workplace where individuals are judged on their abilities and contributions rather than factors beyond their control. Employers must be diligent in ensuring compliance with these anti-discrimination provisions to foster a fair and inclusive work environment for all.

This article was written by Mislav Magas, HR Consultant at Action HR Services.

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The information in this article is provided as part of the Action HR Services Blog. Specific queries should be directed to a member of the Action HR Services Team and it is recommended that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article. This article is correct on 29th January 2024.