Employment laws: know your rights

What kind of employment laws are there?

There are many different employment laws in place to ensure that you get treated fairly in the workplace. Some laws that may apply to you are:

  • Employment Rights Act 1996. This is the new version of what used to be the labour law. This law covers many things, such as dismissal, maternity/paternity leave and redundancy.
  • National Minimum Wage Act 1998. Ensuring a fair minimum wage.
  • The Maternity and Paternal Leave etc. Regulations 1999. Ensures you get time off after having a baby.
  • Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000. This law ensures that part-time workers get treated the same as full-time workers.
  • The Equality Act 2010. This act prevents discrimination in the recruitment process and in the workplace.


What is employment discrimination?

Certain employment laws have been put in place to prevent employment discrimination, also known as workplace discrimination. Discrimination means someone treating you badly/unfairly based on protected characteristics. These characteristics include your:

  • Race
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Gender reassignment
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion or beliefs
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy and maternity

Some important phrases surrounding discrimination are:

Direct discrimination happens when someone is treated less favourably than other employees due to one (or more) of these protected characteristics. It also occurs in other situations, such as unequal pay, when certain employees are made redundant due to these characteristics or adjustments aren’t being made for an employee with a disability.

Indirect discrimination occurs when certain rules or regulations are put in place that put certain employees at a disadvantage. For example, an employer could create a company-wide rule that forbids employees from wearing headscarves, which would be discriminatory to any employees that wear headscarves for religious purposes.

Associate discrimination is when an individual is treated less favourably because they associate with someone who has a protected characteristic.

Perceptive discrimination happens when someone is treated less favourably because people assume they have a protected characteristic, regardless of whether they do or don’t.

Harassment occurs when someone makes an employee feel humiliated, degraded or offended.

Victimisation happens when someone is treated unfairly or gets in trouble for speaking up about workplace discrimination.

Everything you need to know about employment racism

Even though race discrimination has been illegal in the UK since 1976, employment racism unfortunately still happens today. It occurs in the recruitment process, as well as on the work floor. The employment law in place that protects workers from employment racism is the Equality Act (2010). In this act, the race includes colour, nationality and ethnic and national origins.

This Act protects you from any form of racism in the workplace as well as during the hiring process. When applying for a job, an employer is not allowed to use what you say about yourself in your CV or cover letter to discriminate against you. He or she can not reject you based on your race (or any of the other protected characteristics, unless this can be objectively justified). An employer is also not allowed to discriminate against you in the interview process, meaning they can’t ask questions that make assumptions about you based on your race or harass you during your interview.

Want to learn more about discrimination during the application process or at work? Take a look at our article on employment racism.

Employment ageism, is it happening to you?

Ageism, also known as age discrimination, happens when someone is treated unfairly due to their age. The employment law that protects you from employment ageism is The Equality Act. This act states that you may not be discriminated against based on your age, during the hiring process and at work. There is, however, one exception. An employer can reject you for a vacancy based on your age if they can show that this rejection is objectively justified and proportionate. This only happens in a limited number of circumstances, so in most cases, an employer can’t reject you based on your age. The Equality Act also protects you from being forced to retire.

Curious about employment ageism? Feel like you are being discriminated against based on your age and want to know what your rights are? Read everything about this subject in our article about employment ageism.

Employment sexism still happens today

Even though hiring based on gender is illegal, it still occurs sometimes. As does sexism in the workplace. Employment sexism, also known as sex discrimination in the workplace, is when someone is treated unfairly due to their sex. Though sex discrimination also happens to men, it is most common with women. Women often still deal with issues such as harassment, sexism, unequal pay and pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Employees also often still experience discrimination against their sexual orientation or their sexual reassignment.

Employment laws that protect you from employment sexism are:

  • The Equal Pay Act 1970, which gives people the right to earn as much as their counter sex in the same position.
  • The Equality Act 2010, which protects you from any kind of discrimination, including sexism. This employment law also protects you from being discriminated against during pregnancy.
  • The Maternity and Paternal Leave etc. Regulations 1999, which gives you the right to maternity leave.

For more information on sex discrimination at work, check out our article on employment sexism.

Recruitment laws, your rights as an applicant

You have a legal right to work, regardless of your age, sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or any other characteristics. That’s why there are so many employment laws to protect you. However, those same employment laws also protect you when applying for a job in the first place. This ensures that employers can’t reject your application based on any of the abovementioned protected characteristics. Of course, an employer or recruiter could lie to you or omit that they didn’t choose you due to one of the characteristics. However, if you feel like you are being discriminated against in the application process, the employment laws allow you to take legal action.

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