Christians, fat people, Scots: are they protected at work?

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Obesity

Are you protected from discrimination at work? What if you're a Christian, you are overweight, or you have a Scottish accent? A new study has revealed that we're completely clueless when it comes to understanding our rights at work.

So just what protection do you have?


Confusion

A study by lawyers Allen & Overy discovered massive confusion over workplace rights. They gave people a list of different characteristics and asked whether they were specifically protected by workplace laws.

Some 35% had no idea that Christians were protected from discrimination at work, 50% thought (incorrectly) that discrimination on the grounds of physical characteristics such as height and weight is illegal, and only 37% knew that under race discrimination laws people with Scottish accents are protected from discrimination.

In fact, within the UK, there are nine characteristics which are specifically protected under UK law against discrimination. These are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

It is possible to bring a claim for discrimination on the grounds of something that is not specified, such as weight. However, it is very much more difficult.

Covered

Many people have been confused by high-profile cases, which can lead to a perception that something is not covered. In reality, Christians are protected under anti-discrimination laws like most religions.

In fact, many beliefs are also protected. A tribunal last year came to the conclusion that an anti-fox hunting stance was protected under this category. Perhaps unsurprisingly only 13% of people knew this.

Race is also specifically listed. Not all workers appreciate that 'race' includes colour, ethnic and national origins so Romany Gypsies, Irish travellers and Scots are all ethnic groups entitled to protection under race discrimination laws.

Accents are part and parcel of nationality and ethnic origin, so copying someone's accent falls foul of the rules and could lead to a harassment claim where it violates the dignity of fellow workers or creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating office environment.

Commenting on the results, employment partner Karen Seward says people need to consider office banter very carefully, and whether they are falling outside the rules. When asked about the topics most likely to be the subject of banter 46% of people said age, 28% said nationality including mocking accents or stereotypes.

The experts warn that statistics like these are tribunal cases waiting to happen.

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