The Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 makes it unlawful to discriminate against an individual on the grounds of their race by treating them less favourably than you treat or would treat other persons who are not of that particular racial group. This is known as direct discrimination and it cannot be justified.
It is also possible to indirectly discriminate against individuals on the grounds of race. This occurs when there is a requirement or condition which applies to everyone in the same way, but has a greater adverse effect on people of a certain racial group. Indirect discrimination can be justified by an employer as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Individuals can also be subject to unlawful victimisation and/or harassment on the grounds of their race.
For employees, it is important to note that there are strict time limits for lodging Industrial Tribunal proceedings for race discrimination – 3 months from the date of the alleged act, or in the case of a continuing act of race discrimination; 3 months from the date of the last act. These deadlines are extremely strict and it is therefore vital that legal advice is sought at the earliest opportunity.
Employers should be aware that they can be held liable for acts of race discrimination committed by their employees in the course of their employment. It is irrelevant whether the employer knew of, or gave approval to, the alleged acts of discrimination.
It can be a defence for an employer to prove that it took such steps as were reasonably practicable to prevent the employee in question from committing the alleged acts of race discrimination. In this regard it is important to provide regular Equal Opportunities training to all members of staff and to ensure that an Equal Opportunities Policy is in place and is made available to all staff. A well written Disciplinary Code is also crucial – it should make it clear to employees that acts of racial discrimination will not be tolerated and will be dealt with appropriately.
If you have any queries about race discrimination, from either an employee or an employer point of view, please do not hesitate to contact us.