Last week I politely advised a commenter on LinkedIn that I would not be responding to any of his further posts as I felt he had been using abusive and demeaning language towards another contributor. The person in question asked if I was not in fact discriminating against him by choosing not to respond.
Since this is a question I regularly hear posed, I thought it would be useful to explain why yes – I am discriminating, but legally, no – I’m not breaching the law as well as what equality law says on the matter and why this question has a hidden undertone in the context it was used – even if the user is not aware of it.
Was I discriminating?
Yes, I am choosing not to respond. That means I discriminated, distinguished, differentiated, favoured and preferred not to respond. Let me be clear – this is not illegal and in this case for two reasons, i.e. firstly the thing I was discriminating against and secondly the environment I was in.
What can’t I discriminate against?
The law provides a list of nine things, called protected characteristics which you can’t discriminate against. In order to become a protected characteristic the thing must be unrelated to your ability to do your job and have historically been something that people would treat others less favourably because of.
This law is meant to help and protect people that are being prevented from gaining access to work and promotion or receiving hostile behaviour in the workplace. This is not positive discrimination. It does not mean someone with a protected characteristic should be given an advantage over someone without; instead it recognises that if you have a protected characteristic, you are more likely to be at a disadvantage. This is simply trying to ensure everyone gets the same chance.
What are the protected characteristics?
- Race and ethnicity
- Gender reassignment
- Religion and belief
- Sexual orientation
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Marriage and civil partnership
Does where you discriminate matter?
Yes, in the eyes of the law. The Equality Act looks at different environments, such as the workplace, or the provision of goods and services and applies anti-discrimination law. It doesn’t apply outside of these stated environments, though other laws, such as hate law which prevents the incitement of violence on the grounds of a protected characteristic, may apply.
“But that wasn’t what I wanted to happen – it’s not fair.”
Life rarely is to any of us, but discrimination law helps us to understand that it is often far, far, far more unfair to some groups than others.
As a company, we strongly believe that all people in the workplace should have access to a minimum standard of protection and also minimum standards within working environments which we don’t always feel are provided across the entire construction sector. We also feel that to move this agenda forward this is the position that we need to start from. BUT – and it’s a big but – we don’t think that means that the equality agenda becomes unimportant, quite the opposite; we must still strive to understand the experiences of others to retain and attract key talent and to understand how to create an industry that people want to work in, not just put up with.