Share with your network!

In our recent poll on LinkedIn, we found that a shocking 70% of you (at the time of writing) experienced or witnessed discrimination in the workplace.

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? Then check out this guide, designed to give you a clear and practical overview on all things workplace discrimination.

P.S. We’ve also got a very useful webinar coming up on this exact topic, on Wednesday 29th March at 11:15. Register here and get it in the diary!

For now though, let’s read on!


How prevalent is discrimination in the workplace?

Many HR professionals may recall a time when they sat in an interview with a hiring manager, who may have asked a potentially discriminatory question and made you, the HR professional, shudder. Are we correct?

Although this is something that many of us have witnessed and can relate to, unfortunately, the scale of this problem goes far beyond these isolated incidents.

Here are just some of the findings in recent years, highlighting the scale of the problem.

Looking back firstly, to 2019, and the scale of the problem in wider society, a CSO (Central Statistics Office) survey found that 860,000 people experienced discrimination in Ireland.

More recently however, and specifically concerning workplace discrimination, The Matrix Recruitment Workplace Equality Survey found that almost three in four (71%) workers have experienced some form of discrimination in their place of employment, a 54% increase on last year’s findings (46%, 2021).

We are also seeing many cases reach the courts, when it comes to workplace discrimination when it manifests in areas such as maternity leave, dismissal, access to promotions, or so-called “banter.”

Clearly, this is a very live and consistent issue in Irish workplaces, despite clear and detailed definitions, connotations, and legislation on the topic.


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.).

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.

Let’s talk more about how policies, procedures and communication are vital in tackling workplace discrimination.


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 recent 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 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?

Fear not, we’ve got an upcoming webinar where we’ll be discussing Workplace Discrimination with our very own Liam Barton, Senior HR Consultant at Insight HR, who will be joined by Anne Lyne (Partner at Hayes solicitors LLP) and Breda Dooley (Regional Recruitment Manager at Matrix Recruitment Group) to discuss the law around workplace discrimination, how to manage issues if they do arise, and the results of Matrix’s 2022 Workplace Equality Survey!

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

Share with your network!