Equality in the workplace

Introduction

The Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015 outlaw discrimination in a wide range of employment and employment-related areas. These include recruitment and promotion; equal pay; working conditions; training or experience; dismissal and harassment including sexual harassment.

The legislation defines discrimination as treating one person in a less favourable way than another person. There are 9 grounds for discrimination, including:

  • Gender: this means man, woman or transgender
  • Civil status: includes single, married, separated, divorced, widowed people, civil partners and former civil partners
  • Family status: this refers to the parent of a person under 18 years or the resident primary carer or parent of a person with a disability
  • Sexual orientation: includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual
  • Religion: means religious belief, background, outlook or none
  • Age: this does not apply to a person aged under 16
  • Disability: includes people with physical, intellectual, learning, cognitive or emotional disabilities and a range of medical conditions
  • Race: includes race, skin colour, nationality or ethnic origin
  • Membership of the Traveller community.

What counts as discrimination in the workplace?

Discrimination is defined as less favourable treatment. An employee is said to be discriminated against if they are treated less favourably than another employee is treated, has been treated or would be treated, in a comparable situation on any of the above 9 grounds.

Discrimination can be direct or indirect.

To establish direct discrimination, a direct comparison must be made. For example, in the case of disability discrimination the comparison must be between a person who has a disability and another person who has not. Or, between two people with different disabilities.

Indirect discrimination is when practices or policies do not appear to discriminate against one group more than another, but actually have a discriminatory impact. Indirect discrimination can also happen where a requirement that may appear non-discriminatory adversely affects a particular group or class of people.

Specific situations covered by employment equality legislation

Disability: Employers are obliged to make reasonable accommodations for staff with disabilities. This includes providing access to employment, enabling people with disabilities to participate in employment including promotion, and training.

Pregnancy: Pregnancy-related discrimination is discrimination on the ground of gender and includes recruitment, promotion and general conditions of employment. Women who are pregnant or have recently given birth are also protected under maternity protection and unfair dismissals legislation.

Equal pay: Employment equality legislation provides for equal pay for like work. Like work is defined as work that is the same, similar or work of equal value. It is one of the terms that must be part of the contract of employment as a result of laws passed by the Dáil. A claim for equal pay can be made on any of the 9 grounds listed above.

Organisations must report on the pay differences between female and male employees under the new Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021. This initially applies to organisations with 250 or more employees, but will be extended to organisations with 50 or more employees. The reporting process will begin in 2022.

Harassment including sexual harassment that is based on any of the 9 grounds is a form of discrimination in relation to conditions of employment. Bullying at work which is linked to one of the 9 discriminatory grounds above comes under employment equality legislation.

Victimisation: Under employment equality legislation you are protected against victimisation if you bring a claim or are involved in a complaint of unlawful discrimination against your employer. This means that your employer may not penalise you by dismissal, unfair treatment or an unfavourable change in your conditions of employment.

Making a claim under equality legislation

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Workplace Relations Commission are separate organisations that work to ensure equality at work.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is a statutory body set up to provide information to the public on human rights and equality legislation. In some cases it can provide legal assistance to people who wish to bring claims to the Equality Tribunal. You can read more in IHREC’s booklet Your Employment Equality Rights Explained.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) investigates or mediates claims of unlawful discrimination under equality legislation.

You can bring a discrimination claim under the Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015 using the WRC's online complaint form.

You can read more in our page about equality and discrimination disputes.

Read or download a free guide to taking an employment equality case from the Community Law and Mediation (CLM) website. CLM also offers free legal information, advice and mediation services.
Page edited: 26 July 2021