A Premier League manager has recently joked that the reason why his name is not linked with the bigger clubs is that he's ginger, calling it "gingerist". Some employers reading this joke may find themselves considering whether ginger haired people are protected from discrimination and we consider this below.
Discrimination laws cover a wide range of 'protected characteristics'. These include disability; age; sex; religion or belief; race; sexual orientation; pregnancy and maternity; gender reassignment and marriage. To claim discrimination, the person generally needs to possess the protected characteristic or be associated with a person that does.
Having red hair is not explicitly protected under the Equality Act 2010. However, being ginger has the potential to be linked to a person's race or ethnic origin as people of a Celtic origin or from particular countries are far more likely to have red hair than an English person. Where the individual is subjected to less favourable treatment because they are ginger and because of their race they may be able to claim discrimination.
It will be for the employee to show that their treatment is connected to the protected characteristic. This does not mean that the employer can sit back and let "gingerist" or any other discriminatory behaviour take place. They should be taking action to prevent all discrimination from occurring in their business.
It's important that employers take action to prevent discriminatory jokes being said by staff. It's easy to dismiss a joke about a person being ginger as 'banter' or shop talk but this is an area where employers often find themselves facing an expensive employment tribunal claim. Workplace jokes can be classed as harassment where they are related to a protected characteristic and they violate an individual's dignity or create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Harassment does not just come in the form of spoken jokes; it covers written text, posters, signs and even office property such as mugs.
Informing and training all staff on what is and isn't acceptable to say or do in the workplace is a must. Having a policy which outlines the rules on discrimination is essential to ensure the rules are laid out and the employee can refer back at any point. In addition, however, training should also be provided using the policy as a base and go on to explain how this applies in the workplace and what the possible consequences are if discrimination does take place.
Employers also need to prevent discrimination playing a part in any internal or management decisions, as said to be the case by the Premier League manager. Discriminatory factors should not be used by managers when making decisions on issues such as promotions or when deciding who opportunities should be offered to. Instead, decisions should be based on objective factors that are necessary for the business decision to be made and can be objectively assessed, for example, factors such as skills, qualifications and disciplinary records. Employers should train managers on how to carry out decisions properly and what should and shouldn't be taken into account.