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Workplace discrimination continues to be a significant challenge in modern organisations, with various forms such as maternity leave and pregnancy-related discrimination, racial discrimination, and gender inequality still prevalent. In Ireland, recent statistics highlight the severity of the issue, with 20% of Irish workers personally experiencing discrimination at work and 32% witnessing it. Moreover, gender bias remains a persistent problem, affecting 68% of workers who believe parenthood impacts a woman’s career progression. Additionally, over half (53%) of Irish workers who identify as LGBTQIA+ feel discriminated against at work, emphasising the urgent need for proactive measures to create inclusive workplaces.

And in our live poll on LinkedIn, a staggering 63% of respondents have either witnessed or experienced workplace discrimination.

Although legislation, policies and practices have been aiming to prevent, or at least minimise, workplace discrimination for decades, this is still a very live issue. We need only look at the headlines, the WRC case reports and the various survey findings to discover that, although there is so much being done, so much more needs to be done.

Do you feel worried that there may be discrimination in your workplace? Do you need help in understanding the legislation and best practices designed to tackle this issue? Here are practical steps that employers can take to tackle workplace discrimination effectively.

P.S. We’ve also got a very useful webinar coming up on this exact topic, on Wednesday 24th of April at 11:15. Register here and get it in the diary!

For now though, let’s read on!


What exactly is workplace discrimination?

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 following 9 grounds.

  • Gender
  • Civil status
  • Family status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race, skin colour, nationality or ethnic origin
  • Membership of the Traveller community

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.

The Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015 outlaw discrimination in a wide range of employment and employment-related areas, such as equal pay, working conditions, training or experience, dismissal and harassment (including sexual harassment).

The law applies to:

  • full-time, part-time and temporary workers
  • people working for the public sector or, private companies
  • organisations which provide training for job skills (for example, vocational training)
  • employment agencies
  • trade unions
  • professional and trade bodies
  • self-employed contractors, partners in partnerships and office-holders in State organisations and local authorities.


How do we manage workplace discrimination if it does occur?

If an issue has been identified and an employee has been accused of unfavourable treatment of another employee during the course of employment, it is vital that this is dealt with through the relevant channels.

Firstly, you, as a HR professional or leader, must identify the facts of the issue, gain an understanding of what happened, and then move forward accordingly. Ask yourself…

  • Is this acceptable behaviour?
  • Was it discriminatory (or could it be construed as being discriminatory)?

Any employee found to be engaging in discriminatory and/or unacceptable behaviour should be dealt with through your organisation’s grievance and disciplinary procedure.

Where needed, the organisation may also need to conduct a workplace investigation to establish the full facts of the incident, gather evidence, and present findings before deciding the outcome and/or punishment the employee may face (dismissal, suspension etc.).

  • Investigate Promptly: Take all complaints of discrimination seriously and conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into the allegations. Gather relevant evidence, interview witnesses, and assess the credibility of the claims.
  • Take Corrective Action: If the investigation confirms that discrimination has occurred, take appropriate corrective action. This may include disciplinary measures against the perpetrator, providing support and remedies to the victim, and implementing measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.
  • Provide Support: Offer support to the victim of discrimination, including access to counselling services, guidance on legal rights, and assistance in navigating the complaint resolution process.
  • Review Policies and Procedures: Take this opportunity to review your organization’s policies and procedures related to discrimination and make any necessary updates or improvements. Communicate these changes to employees to reinforce your commitment to creating an inclusive workplace.

By taking swift and decisive action, you can demonstrate your commitment to promoting a workplace free from discrimination and ensure that all employees feel safe, valued, and respected.

More often than not, these incidents may take place in the absence of a team leader, HR person, or even any witnesses. It is vital for the organisation to provide fit-for-purpose communication channels for reporting these incidents in a clear and actionable manner, to ensure they are dealt with effectively.


How can we prevent workplace discrimination?

Although organisations, and society as a whole, are facing an uphill battle in preventing workplace discrimination entirely, there are a number of things you, as a HR team, can do to minimise the risk and help protect your employees.

Start by asking yourself the following questions;

  • Have we trained our leaders and line managers on workplace discrimination? While one-off training can help inform practices, a culture of inclusion and anti-discrimination is ongoing. Ensure that line managers and leaders are consistently and effectively trained on a variety of areas such as interview skills, managing diverse teams, dealing with conflict etc. Also consider focusing on behaviour changes, and equipping leaders with the skills to change any possible bad habits and make improvements on a daily basis, for a more sustainable result.
  • When was the last time we reviewed our policies and discrimination-proofed them? At Insight HR, we recommend consistently reviewing your policies, not only to ensure they are in line with the latest employment law, but also to ensure they support your business and your employees. When reviewing policies, ensure you look at them through the lens of anti-discrimination, checking that they do not unfairly exclude or negatively affect anyone under the 9 protected grounds. Explore the connotations and update accordingly.
  • Do we have a culture of non-acceptance, or do we ignore these issues? As discussed in a previous podcast by Liam Barton, Senior HR Consultant here at Insight HR, if incidents or behaviours that are in any way discriminatory or derogatory go unnoticed or undealt with, these behaviours may be allowed to grow, creating a sub-culture of acceptance for these kinds of issues. As HR teams and leaders, we must not only create channels for these incidents to be reported, but to also promote a zero-tolerance culture for discriminatory behaviours.
  • Is our leadership team displaying positive behaviours? Although inclusive practices are essential at every level of a business, leading by example should be a key priority. Take time to analyse behaviours at senior level, how to improve this, and how to empower your senior leaders to champion a supportive culture.
  • Are we being discriminatory in our recruitment/promotion/reward processes? Consider rewriting job descriptions and person specifications so they use inclusive and non-discriminatory language, e.g., using words that strike a balance of gendered descriptors and verbs. Create a blind system of reviewing resumes so you don’t see “demographic characteristics.” Reduce the number of essential skills or characteristics required for the role so you can increase the pool of available people available for the role. And last but not least, analyse who you attract with your advertisements and who gets through the selection process. This can be very telling.
  • Do we talk about a ‘right fit’ for our culture? If you’re company defines people by how they fit in to your culture, you’re potentially leaning into a culture that excludes certain people. Focus more on helping those in your organisation flourish, and develop your ‘fit’ around this so that it reflects a positive culture.
  • Do we do anything to address unconscious bias? Raise awareness of unconscious bias and its impact on workplace decisions and interactions. Offer practical workshops and training sessions to help employees recognise and mitigate their biases. Simple techniques, such as blind resume screening and diverse hiring panels, can help minimise the influence of unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion processes.
  • Do we use employee surveys effectively? Dig deeper when analysing employee surveys. Consider deep diving into feedback, breaking it down by a number of respective factors (demographic, gender, ethnicity) as this may uncover issues which are felt by certain groups. This can help inform your efforts to tackle blind spots, that you may not have been aware of.
  • Are certain practices unconsciously exclusionary? Use your working groups to identify possible blind spots in your usual business practice. For instance, is it possible to implement rolling holidays for those who don’t celebrate Christmas? Are your social events based around ‘nights-out’ and thereby excluding those who don’t/cannot consume alcohol due to religious beliefs or medical conditions? Are your hours of work and work practices rigid and tied to location and thereby excluding women, people with caring responsibilities and people with disabilities?  Are you thinking about pronoun usage, gender identity, and expression when crafting your policies and work practices?


How can Insight HR help?

Insight HR has the experience and expertise to ensure that your employment contracts, policies and procedures, are compliant, effective, non-discriminatory and fit-for-purpose. At Insight HR, we provide consultation, advice and guidance on your organisation’s level of compliance with current legislation. Our partnership approach is also future-focused, ensuring your policies and procedures not only protect your business and your people, long-term, but supports your understanding of the intersection of daily communications with employees and practical strategies for inclusion.

“With Insight HR, your investment will never just be about fixing a problem or developing a strategy. Instead, our partnership approach arms teams with the knowledge they need to make better decisions. We leave HR teams better informed and more confident in their abilities to resolve future HR issues.”

Mary Cullen, Founder and Managing Director at Insight HR

Or have issues occurred already? Do you need help in managing an investigation or handling a workplace conflict? At Insight HR, we have decades of experience in helping leading Irish businesses resolve workplace conflicts. Working with such a wide variety of clients means that we have gained a huge amount of experience in resolving all kinds of conflicts. Engaging with Insight HR next time your business faces a workplace conflict means that the issue will be dealt with effectively and efficiently.


Do you need further guidance on this topic? Do you want to hear additional insights and ask questions directly to the experts?

Join the Insight HR team and our special guests, Siobhan Sweeney (Global Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Element), and Christabelle Feeney (Responsible Business Lead at WILLIAM FRY LLP), on Wednesday 24th of April at 11:15am, when we will be sharing advice, guidance and key insights on tackling workplace discrimination.

From maternity leave discrimination, to racism, to ageism – workplace discrimination remains a challenging item in Irish workplace. So let’s discuss learnings, cases, prevention strategies and everything in between, in this free and practical event, aimed at HR teams and employers who want to know more about supporting their employees and their organisations.

Book your space today before you miss out!

And for further guidance and discussion on these topics, and advice and support on anything HR-related, get in touch with us today at 0567701060 or send an email to

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