Employment discrimination: protection for some

Employers aren’t allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexuality; we all know that. But what about other things that are connected with those things? If a man has long hair, some employers don’t think it looks professional. So if this man is discriminated against and not hired because of his long hair, that is a form of gender discrimination (because a woman with the same length or longer hair would not be discriminated). In the same way, an employer might discriminate against a white man who wears cornrows or dreadlocks while a black man wearing the same hairstyle might be fine because it’s a part of his heritage. So, isn’t that race discrimination (of a white person)? Similarly, black women sometimes damage their hair with relaxers or hot combs to get a ‘professional’ look as they feel that their natural hair isn’t quite good enough.

Your family choice is also not protected. If a potential employer doesn’t hire you because you’re a young parent or live in a polyamorous household, there’s no statute to protect you. However if you are fired because you are an unmarried mother, the case Flynn v Power is an EU case that, by EU Law, is now a part of UK law. So you can’t be fired for being an “unmarried mother”. (This happened in Ireland in the 2000s.)

And while LGBTQ people are protected, a lot of heterosexuals aren’t. If you’re kinky, poly or have ever worked in the sex industry – no matter how long ago that was – you can be fired. That’s what happened to a Criminal Justice social worker who told a colleague he went to SM clubs and had a small online business selling fetish clothing. Melissa Petro was fired for being a sex worker in her student days over a decade before. So maybe you should think twice before telling your work friends about trying to 50 Shades your boyfriend or hilarious anecdotes from your sex life at college.

There are also no laws to stop you being discriminated because of your hairstyle, piercings or othher body modifications. Oviously we need more anti-discrimination laws, or at least tightening of the ones we’ve got. But changing attitudes is the first step. Discrimination wouldn’t exist without stigmatising attitudes, and when there is no more discrimination there won’t even be any need for discrimination laws. Employers won’t usually be stupid enough to say “I’m not hiring you cos you’re a queer” so even for protected people, it can be difficult to prove discrimination on sexuality, race or religious grounds. The same problem would arise if protection was extended to other groups.

So, while extending such protection is necessary, changing attitudes will ultimately bring about the greater good.


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