Can you refuse to employ a smoker? It may surprise you, but yes you can – smoking is not one of the 9 ‘protected characteristics’ on which we must not discriminate. If you don’t know what these 9 things are, then you need to read the list below.
But first, why should we, as employers, be bothered? There are a number of very good reasons to have a Dignity at Work policy in place (and to make sure everyone has seen it – if you’d like a copy contact us and we’ll supply one for you):
- Because a person doesn’t have to have 2 years’ service to bring a tribunal claim – in fact they don’t need any service at all – they might not even be an employee.
- Because discrimination claims lead to the highest compensation pay-outs and are the most expensive to defend.
- Because you, the employer, are liable for the discriminatory acts of your employees – evenif you didn’t know about the acts.
- And lastly because discrimination is rife and complex.
So what are the 9 protected characteristics against which it is unlawful to subject a person to a ‘detriment’ (or disadvantage)? This is the current list as is described in the Equality Act 2010:
- Gender reassignment (undergoing or are proposing to undergo (or has undergone) a process (or part of one) to change sex.
- Pregnancy & maternity.
- Race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin and caste).
- Religion or belief.
- Sexual orientation.
- Marriage and civil partnership.
Looking at an example if a job applicant could show that they were suitable for a vacancy but are likely to have been rejected because they are too young; too old; changing sex; pregnant; from a racial minority; are of a particular religion; simply because they are a woman or a man; were gay or because they were or were not married, they will have valid claim.
Similarly if one employee treated another employee badly because of one of those things, the victim of that treatment could bring a claim against the employer (even if the employer didn’t know and wasn’t a party to that treatment) and the employer would have to prove that it did what it reasonably could do to have prevented that type of treatment – in a small business that might be as simple as having a Dignity ay Work and Equal Opportunities policy and making sure that all employees have a copy and have read it. If you’d like an HR policy pack please contact us and we’ll supply one for you.