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Discrimination in Employment
This guide provides an overview of discrimination in employment and discusses the type of conduct that will amount to unlawful discrimination.
The Human Rights Act 1993 makes it unlawful to discriminate against people on 13 grounds in
situations that arise in everyday life, and particularly in employment. However, there are exceptions
permitted by the Act in certain circumstances. Those grounds of unlawful discrimination are the same
under the Employment Relations Act 2000, with one exception. This Act makes it unlawful for
employers to discriminate on the additional ground of involvement in the activities of a union.
Discrimination can occur at all stages of an employment relationship; it may occur before an applicant
is considered for a position, it may occur sometime during employment and it may occur as the last
event before an employment relationship is terminated.
Discrimination is not unlawful unless the law says it is. That statement may appear patently obvious,
but it is permissible to discriminate against people on grounds other than the prohibited grounds of
discrimination under these Acts. Just because the idea of some form of discrimination may seem
abhorrent or immoral does not mean that an employer (or employees) cannot legally do it.
Discrimination may be direct or indirect, deliberate or inadvertent. Often without the intent to
discriminate, your policies, procedures or rules may discriminate against a group of employees.
Further, policies that treat all employees in the same way may indirectly discriminate against a subset
of employees; so you need to have valid reasons for all of your policies, procedures, and rules in order
to justify them if they potentially discriminate against a group of employees.
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