Discrimination in employment and occupation means treating people differently or less favourably because of characteristics that are not related to their merit or the inherent requirements of the job. In national law, these characteristics commonly include: race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction, social origin, age, disability, HIV/AIDS status, trade union membership, and sexual orientation.
However, Principle 6 allows companies to consider additional grounds where discrimination in employment and occupation may occur.
Discrimination can arise in a variety of work-related activities. These include access to employment, to particular occupations, promotions and to training and vocational guidance. Moreover, it can occur with respect to the terms and conditions of the employment, such as:
In some countries, additional issues for discrimination in the workplace, such as age and HIV status, are growing in importance. It is also important to realize that discrimination at work arises in a range of settings, and can be a problem in a rural agricultural business or in a high technology city-based business.
Non-discrimination means simply that employees are selected on the basis of their ability to do the job and that there is no distinction, exclusion or preference made on other grounds. Employees who experience discrimination at work are denied opportunities and have their basic human rights infringed. This affects the individual concerned and negatively influences the greater contribution that they might make to society.
Discrimination can take many forms, both in terms of gaining access to employment and in the treatment of employees once they are in work.
It may be direct, such as when laws, rules or practices explicitly cite a reason such as sex or race to deny equal opportunity. Most commonly, however, discrimination is indirect and arises where rules or practices have the appearance of neutrality but in fact lead to exclusions. This indirect discrimination often exists informally in attitudes and practices, which if unchallenged can perpetuate in organizations. Discrimination may also have cultural roots that demand more specific approaches.
From a business point of view discrimination does not make sense. It leads to social tensions that are potentially disruptive to the business environment within the company and in society. A company that uses discriminatory practices in employment and occupation denies itself access to talents from a wider pool of workers, and thus skills and competencies. The hurt and resentment generated by discrimination will affect the performance of individuals and teams in the company. Increasingly, Young graduates and new employees also increasingly judge companies on the basis of their social and ethical policies at work. Discriminatory practices result in missed opportunities for development of skills and infrastructure to strengthen competitiveness in the national and global economy. Finally, discrimination isolates an employer from the wider community and can damage a company's reputation, potentially affecting profits and stock value.
First and foremost, companies need to respect all relevant local and national laws. Any company introducing measures to promote equality needs to be aware of the diversities of language, culture and family circumstance that may exist in the workforce. Managers and supervisory staff, in particular, should seek to develop an understanding of the different types of discrimination and how it can affect the workforce. For example, women constitute a growing proportion of the world's workforce, but consistently earn less than their male counterparts. Disabled employees may have particular needs that should be met, where reasonable, in order to ensure that they have the same opportunities (e.g. for training and advancement) as their peers.
Companies can put in place specific activities to address the question of discrimination and eliminate it within the workplace. Some examples are:
(Last updated: 14 August 2009)