The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 – A Summary

The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 – A Summary

The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 aim to:

  • promote equality
  • ban discrimination across nine grounds
  • ban sexual and other harassment
  • ban victimisation
  • make sure suitable facilities for people with disabilities are available in relation to access to employment, advancing in employment and taking part in training
  • allow positive action to ensure everyone gets full equality across the nine grounds.

Who is protected under the Acts?

The Acts apply to:

  • full-time, part-time and temporary employees
  • public and private sector employment
  • vocational training bodies
  • employment agencies
  • trade unions, professional and trade bodies.

The Acts also extend in certain circumstances to self-employed people, partners in partnerships, and State and local authority office-holders.

Obligations of Employers

The Equality Employment Acts 1998-2015 prohibit discrimination under the nine grounds in employment, including vocational training and work experience.  The main obligations of employers under the act include the following:

Employers may not discriminate against employees or potential employees on the basis of any of the nine grounds.

The aspects of employment which are covered under the Employment Equality Acts include:

  • Advertising
  • Equal pay
  • Access to employment
  • Vocational training and work experience
  • Terms and conditions of employment
  • Promotion or re-grading
  • Classification of posts
  • Dismissal
  • Collective agreements.

How does the law define discrimination in the workplace?

Discrimination has a specific meaning in equality law. In the Employment Equality Acts the definition of discrimination focuses on whether a person has been treated less favourably in the workplace than another person in a similar situation on any of the nine grounds, including disability.

It is important to remember that discrimination can be direct or indirect. While direct discrimination is often more obvious, indirect discrimination has a similar impact on employees, including those with experience of mental health difficulties. Indirect discrimination can happen when organisations’ policies and practices have negative consequences for some people. For example, indirect discrimination can occur if a policy or practice, which is applied to all employees, has the effect of putting an employee at a   disadvantage because of his or her experience of mental health difficulties.  For more detailed description see Discrimination under the Employment Equality Acts.

Who is covered by the Act?

The Act covers employees in both the public and private sectors (subject to some exemptions). The Act outlaws discrimination on any of the discriminatory grounds in all areas relevant to employment as follows:

  • Discrimination by employers: with regard to access to employment, conditions of employment, training and promotion
  • Discrimination in collective agreements: with regard to access to and conditions of employment and equal pay for like work.
  • Discriminatory advertising: which indicates an intention to discriminate or advertising that might reasonably be understood as indicating an intention to discriminate
  • Discrimination by employment agencies: against any person seeking employment or other services of the agency (e.g. Career guidance or training)
  • Discrimination in vocational training: discrimination in the provision of vocational training.
  • Discrimination by certain bodies: Discrimination by trade unions, professional and trade associations as regards membership and other benefits.

What is ‘vicarious liability’?

‘Vicarious liability’ means when someone is legally responsible for someone else’s actions. Employers are liable for any act of discrimination by an employee in the course of their employment unless the employer can prove that they took reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination. An employer also has a duty under the Acts to protect their employees in

relation to discrimination or harassment coming from third parties such as service users, contractors and, suppliers.

What is ‘positive action’?

Under the Acts, ‘positive action’ means that the employer can take steps that are not required under the law to promote equality for all their workers.  In particular, employers can take positive action measure in relation to the gender ground, people over 50, people with disabilities and members of the Traveller community.

It would be positive action if an employer took measures to attract Traveller employees or employees with disabilities.  It would be a ‘positive action’ on behalf of an employer if they provided a childcare facility on the premises. This might give someone with a young family the same opportunity of employment as someone without children.

Do you think that you have experienced discrimination in relation to work?

Please note that these factsheets are for information only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such.