We’re barely into 2020 and we seem to be on something of a roll with stories about sex discrimination. Yesterday, I discussed the issue of equal pay.
Only this morning I was flicking through the newspaper and came across another story, this time, concerning pregnancy discrimination.
Helen Larkin was dismissed from her post with the Liz Earle Beauty Company on the grounds of her pregnancy. Her employer was restructuring the company and refused to consider Ms Larkin for two alternative posts within the organisation. This refusal to consider suitable, alternative employment appeared to be motivated by the fact that Ms Larkin would shortly be going off on her period of maternity leave.
This treatment amounted to unlawful direct discrimination in terms of Sections 13 and 18 of the Equality Act 2010. Her dismissal would also be automatically unfair in terms of the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Consequently, Ms Larkin was awarded over £17,000 in compensation. This sum, of course, reflects an element to injury to feelings (the so called Vento Bands or Guidelines).
A study carried out jointly by the UK Government Department (Business, Innovation and Skills) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission previously discovered that some 54,000 women per year in this country were forced out of their employment for reasons related to pregnancy and/or maternity.
A link to a summary of the research on the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission can be found below:
Again, as I noted in yesterday’s Blog (New Year, same old story …), we have had anti-discrimination laws in the UK for nearly 45 years and yet we still regularly hear stories about pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Readers might be interested to learn about the work of a pressure group (Pregnant then screwed) whichcampaigns to end the ‘motherhood penalty’:
It’s becoming depressingly predictable: the persistence of the gender pay gay in the United Kingdom.
This time last year, I was discussing with my students the struggle that City of Glasgow Council female employees were undertaking to win their claims for equal pay. After a period of industrial action, the women finally won their struggle:
We’ve just entered 2020 and it seems as if nothing much has changed in the wider world (more on this later).
Theoretically, the gender pay gap should be a thing of the past. We have had legislation in place for nearly 45 years in this country: the Equal Pay Act 1970 (which came into force in December 1975) and the current Equality Act 2010.
An info graphic which shows the number of Employment Tribunal cases in the UK involving equal pay claims (2008-2019) can be seen below:
True, the above figures show the number of equal pay claims in overall decline – effectively being halved (from a high of over 60,000 in 2008 to just over 30,000 in 2019); but my riposte to that would to say still too many.
In today’s edition of The Independent, new research, carried out by the Institute of Public Policy Research, indicates that female General Practitioners (physicians for our overseas readers) are paid up to £40,000 less than their male colleagues every year.
For each £1 that a male colleague earns, a woman earns 35 pence less. To reinforce this point, the article states that female GPs are effectively providing their services free of charge between September and December every year.
In language of the Equality Act 2010, the female GPs are carrying out ‘like work’ when comparing themselves to their male colleagues. There seems to be absolutely no lawful justification for this disparity in pay between the sexes.
A link to the article in The Independent can be found below:
The equal pay laws imply a sex or gender equality clause into every person’s contract of employment. Employers therefore have a legal duty to ensure gender equality in relation to terms and conditions of service.
It seems pretty simple, so why isn’t it happening in 2020?
An explanation for this situation in the medical profession has centred around the development of a ‘two tier’ system whereby more men are partners in GP surgeries whereas a large number of women take on the role of a salaried GP. Women tend to become salaried GPs because they feel that this allows them to work flexibly around their family commitments. So, again, what we appear to be seeing is women being penalised because they are trying to balance work and family (the so called ‘motherhood’ penalty).
Also on this day …
And purely by coincidence another equal pay story …
… Samira Ahmed, BBC journalist, wins her Employment Tribunal claim for equal pay (see below):
Yesterday, I tuned into Jeremy Vine’s daily show on BBC Radio 2 while out in the car and happened to catch an interesting discussion about potential discrimination and blood donation.
Ethan Spibey was a guest on the show and he was discussing his campaign to make it easier for gay and bisexual men to make regular blood donations. Mr Spibey is involved in a campaigning organisation called Freedom to Donate.
Readers of this Blog will be aware that I often discuss examples of actual or potential discrimination in terms of the Equality Act 2010.
Mr Spibey’s contribution to the Jeremy Vine show got me thinking about an issue – to which I readily confess hadn’t featured much on my radar previously: was the requirement or condition imposed by the NHS in this country making gay or bisexual men abstain from sex for 3 months before they are permitted to give blood an example of discriminatory treatment?
A link to Freedom to Donate’s Twitter account can be found below:
The discussion about restrictions on who can give blood got me thinking: would this be an example of direct and/or indirect discrimination in terms of Sections 13 and 19 respectively of the Equality Act 2010?
Direct discrimination occurs when someone experiences unlawful, less favourable treatment because they possess a protected characteristic (in this situation: sexual orientation).
As we shall see, gay and bisexual men are certainly placed at a distinct disadvantage in regarding the current restrictions on blood donation when comparing their situation to that of heterosexuals.
The National Health Service (NHS) is also applying a practice criterion or policy (PCP) which has a disproportionately adverse effect on men who are gay or bisexual.
Section 19 of the Equality Act defines indirect discrimination in the following terms:
A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if A applies to B a provision, criterion or practice which is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of B’s.’
Section 19(2) makes it very clear what it is meant by a discriminatory provision, criterion or practice in relation to a relevant protected characteristic:
(a)A applies, or would apply, it to persons with whom B does not share the characteristic,
(b) it puts, or would put, persons with whom B shares the characteristic at a particular disadvantage when compared with persons with whom B does not share it,
(c) it puts, or would put, B at that disadvantage, and
(d)A cannot show it to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
In 2017, to much fanfare, NHS England announced that the previous 12 month abstention period for gay and bisexual men had been reduced to the current period of 3 months.
A link to a press release from NHS England can be found below:
Apparently, all blood donors are asked about their sexual orientation as part of the screening process. However … if you are a gay or bisexual man, then you are asked further questions about your sex life.
Needless to say this requirement does not apply to individuals whose stated sexual orientation is heterosexual.
Now, Ethan Spibey conceded that the paramount duty of the NHS was to ensure the safety of blood donations, but he was firmly of the view that heterosexuals could pose just as much of a threat to the health and safety of the beneficiary.
Are gay and bisexual men suffering as a result of a hangover from the 1980s when the fear of AIDS and HIV was omnipresent as the rather grim public information film from the time demonstrates?:
The current approach to blood donations, as campaigners like Mr Spibey would argue, results in a blanket policy which has a disproportionately adverse effect on gay and bisexual men. A person’s sexual orientation is, of course, a protected characteristic in terms of Sections 4 and 12 of the Equality Act 2010.
Health and safety can be used as an objective justification to defeat claims of discrimination, but it must be a credible defence. Do gay and bisexual men represent a greater threat to the safety and security of the nation’s blood supply? Clearly, the scientific evidence would have to be objective and credible to sustain this argument.
After listening to Mr Spibey, I was left with the impression that the scientific evidence for treating this group of people differently might not be so clear cut.
A link to a discussion on the BBC website about the issue can be found below:
“Great big girl’s blouse!” or “a girly swot”. Harmless insults; a bit of banter; or perhaps an example of sexist language? Deborah Haynes, a journalist with Sky News, certainly took the view that these remarks were sexist in nature – even though men were the targets (see the link below).
The first of these remarks was uttered allegedly by Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP in the House of Commons last week and directed towards the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn MP. The second remark was in a memo written by the Prime Minister in which he was critical of David Cameron (one of his predecessors).
Mr Johnson is well known for his colourful language in both print and in his speeches, but he was called out last week in the House of Commons by the Labour MP, Tammanjeet Singh Dhesi who accused him in very blunt terms of making racist remarks about Muslim women who chose to wear the Islamic form of dress known as the burka as an outward sign of their religious beliefs and cultural background.
Mr Tammanjeet drew on his own experiences as a Sikh and the kinds of derogatory remarks that he had to endure. His speech was received very warmly on the Opposition benches of the House of Commons.
On the other hand, Mr Johnson attempted a defence of his language by saying that he had merely spoken up in favour of the good old fashioned liberal value of freedom of speech. It was not an entirely convincing performance from the Prime Minister and far from his finest hour at the despatch box.
The Equality Act 2010 recognises various forms of prohibited conduct such as direct discrimination (Section 13) and harassment (Section 26). Sexist, sectarian and homophobic remarks may well be taken as examples of direct discrimination. A sustained campaign of bullying to which an individual (with a particular protected characteristic) is subjected may amount to harassment.
It will be sensible for employers particularly to spell out to employees what is acceptable (and what is not) in terms of the kinds of language or behaviour in the work-place. If employers do nothing to check discriminatory remarks such as racist or sexist insults, there is a real danger that they could be held vicariously liable.
Had Mr Johnson been a mere mortal, some of his remarks may have come back to haunt him. Employers are entitled to take disciplinary action against those employees who have committed acts of discrimination. After all, they are merely protecting their position by not leaving themselves open to the threat of legal action by the victims.
From the employee’s perspective, engaging in offensive language could give the employer the right to treat this type of behaviour as gross misconduct. It should be recalled that, in terms of Section 98 of the Employment Rights Act 1998, misconduct committed by an employee can be punished by dismissal and such a termination of the employment contract may be entirely reasonable in the circumstances.
In short, no one should have to work in a place where there is a hostile, degrading or intimidating environment. Racist or sexist remarks can be highly suggestive of such a working environment if permitted to go unchecked and unchallenged. Maybe in future the Prime Minister would do well to mind his language.
Links to articles about the Prime Minister’s colourful turn of phrase can be found below: