Discrimination in the workplace has increasingly occupied the public eye in recent years, with several high-profile cases prompting a greater awareness of the prejudices many employees face in their everyday lives.

However, according to new research from global HR and payroll firm ADP, nearly three quarters of UK employees say they never feel discriminated against at work.

While this may seem to show progress towards equality, the low number of those who report experiencing workplace discrimination could instead indicate a lack of confidence in speaking up against prejudice:

  • Less than a third (32.67%) of workers would feel comfortable raising a claim in the event of discrimination at work
  • 8% of UK employees have been discriminated against on the grounds of age
  • 10% of female workers say they have experienced gender-based discrimination at work

There is still much to be done to tackle workplace discrimination, and employers need to take a proactive approach to tackle prejudice and unconscious bias in order to create an inclusive environment and ensure equal treatment for all. 

The Study shows 73% British workers say they have never felt discriminated against at work with their current employer, according to new research of more than 11,000 workers around the world by the ADP® Research Institute.

Revealing the scale and specifics of perceptions on the issue, the research found that overall, ageism is the most common form of perceived discrimination in the workplace. 8% of respondents say they have been discriminated against on the grounds of their age, with young people (18-24 year olds) the most likely to feel affected (19%), followed by 25-34 year olds (10%) and 45+ year olds (6%).

Gender and appearance are the next most reported forms (7% and 6% respectively) of discrimination. The list of possible reasons for feeling targeted is long, including race, religion and disability as well as education, background, mental health, family circumstances and neurological differences.

The Workforce View 2020 Volume One and Volume Two post-COVID-19 report explores how employees feel about current issues in the workplace and the future of work, and whether the effects of the pandemic have impacted their perspectives.

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director at ADP, commented:

“Workplace discrimination has been making headlines in recent years, whether its ageism, religion, disability or racial discrimination. Yet, as shown in the research findings, most employees find it hard to raise claims or are unaware of what to do.

“Employers must stay alert to this issue, take a proactive approach to tackle potential prejudice and unconscious bias and ensure equal treatment for all. A lack of adequate protocol or process in some organisations could undermine efforts to increase inclusivity and create a culture of openness.

"It is also important to encourage those employees who don't experience discrimination to support those who do, as discrimination in the workplace can be extremely alienating.

“This is especially important as mass moves to remote working in the wake of COVID-19 change workforce dynamics. Policies and procedures may need to adapt accordingly to take account of how workers are being managed and supported in this new and uncertain environment.”

Jeff adds, “Post-pandemic, employers are having to make a lot of difficult decisions very rapidly around strategy, operations and jobs, but they can’t afford to make mistakes that could open them up to calls of discrimination. How businesses are seen to treat workers is more important in tough times than ever for worker morale, but also brand reputation too.”

Methodoldgy: The Workforce View 2020 explores employees’ attitudes towards the current world of work and what they expect and hope for from the workplace of the future.

ADP Research Institute surveyed 11,428 workers in six countries around the world between 28 April and 14 May 2020 and compared the findings with the research results from the same six geographies with the same sample sizes between 29 October 2019 and 6 January 2020.The findings are outlined in The Workforce View 2020 Volume Two post-COVID-19.

ADP Research Institute surveyed:

  • 3,808 in Europe (represented by Spain and the UK)
  • 1,909 in North America (represented by the USA)
  • 1,904 in Latin America (represented by Brazil)
  • 3,807 in Asia Pacific (APAC) (represented by China and India)

These countries were chosen as appropriate representative samples of the Asia Pacific, European, North American and Latin American regions at the time the research was conducted. The study included over 3,000 working in the gig economy.

Global results are weighted to represent the size of the working population for each country.     

Government proposes enhanced protections for workers facing workplace discrimination 

Employers could be stopped from withholding references to any employee under new proposals announced by Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom on Tuesday 29 October). This would mean that employers could, for the first time, be required to provide at least a basic reference for any former employee

New proposals include consulting on whether employers should be required to provide references for former employees.

  • Proposals include consulting on whether employers should be required to provide references for former employees
  • Move would crack down on rogue employers using references as a bargaining chip, ensuring workers are better protected from threats or intimidation
  • Part of a wider package cracking down on misuse of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and workplace discrimination announced in July 2109.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said:

I am determined to make the UK the best place to work and grow a business - including levelling the playing field between employees and employers. The overwhelming majority of businesses comply with the law, treating their employees with respect and fairness.

But we cannot tolerate the small minority that use nasty tactics like non-disclosure agreements and withholding references to pressure employees into silence, often in cases of serious wrongdoing. These proposals ensure individuals are protected, striking a fair balance between the interests of employers and workers.

These proposals form part of the government’s response to an inquiry on non-disclosure agreements conducted by the Women and Equalities Select Committee (WESC).

Many of the recommendations made by the Committee were addressed in a raft of proposals announced in July to crack down on misuse of non-disclosure agreements, including legislation ensuring that confidentiality clauses cannot prevent individuals disclosing to the police, regulated health and care professionals or legal professionals.

Other recently proposed legislation includes:

  • ensuring employers make clear the limitations of a confidentiality clause, in plain English, within a settlement agreement and in a written statement for an employee, so individuals signing them fully understand what they are signing and their rights
  • extending current legislation so that individuals signing NDAs will get independent legal advice on the limitations of a confidentiality clause – including making clear that information can still be disclosed to police, regulated health and care professionals, or legal professionals regardless of an NDA
  • introducing new enforcement measures to deal with confidentiality clauses that do not comply with legal requirements - for example, an NDA in a settlement agreement that does not follow new legislative requirements will be legally void

These plans reinforce the government’s commitment to balance the needs of workers and businesses, delivering a UK labour market fit for the modern world of work.

Government announced an initial crackdown on NDAs on 21 July 2019 - including proposals to:

  • legislate so that no provision in a non-disclosure agreement can prevent disclosures to the police, regulated health and care professionals and legal professionals
  • legislate so that limitations in non-disclosure agreements are clearly set out in employment contracts and settlement agreements
  • produce guidance for solicitors and legal professionals responsible for drafting settlement agreements
  • legislate to enhance the independent legal advice received by individuals signing non-disclosure agreements
  • introduce enforcement measures for non-disclosure agreements that do not comply with legal requirements in written statements of employment particulars and settlement agreements

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