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Workplace Discrimination A Legal Perspective

Workplace discrimination which can be conscious or unconscious, is unfair or unequal treatment to a person or a group on the grounds of race, gender, sex, disabilities etc. at a workplace. It impacts pay, promotion and employee benefits related matter which is detrimental to future growth for individual as well as society.

Workplace discrimination can happen between co: workers, employer: employee or during the process of accepting job application. Constitution of India and other statues protects the workers against the possible discrimination at workplace which we will discuss below in the continuation of this article.

Legal Framework on Discrimination: Constitution of India protects the interest of individual against the possible discrimination which we will discuss below:
Article 14: Article 14 guarantees 'equality before law'. It states that "The state shall not deny to any person equality before law or the equal protection of laws within the territory of India".

It makes an obligation on the state not to deny 'equality before law' to any person and it also makes an obligation on state not to deny 'equal protection of law'. It prohibits discrimination.

Article 15: It forbids discrimination on grounds only of religion, sex, caste, gender, pace of birth. Although this article will not prevent state from making any special law for women and children and also state has the autonomy to make provisions for the socially and economically backward classes for their advancements.

However, these provision can only be availed if the discrimination is made by the state or government bodies. And in case of discrimination on any ground that are listed in article 15, a writ can be filed in the High court or Supreme court of India.

Labour Laws Addressing Discrimination: There are also statutes which prohibits the discrimination at workplace and protects the right of worker at workplace.

Person with Disabilities (PwD) [Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation] Act, 1995:

  • It protects the right of differently abled persons in India at the workplace.
  • 6% of the seats in the establishment of the government are reserved for differently abled people.
  • Sec. 24A of the act guarantees no discrimination in employment.
  • Sec. 24C prohibits discrimination in promotion owing to disability.
  • Sec. 24D focuses on policies for equal opportunity.
  • Sec. 24F forbids removal or reduction of any rank on acquiring or having a disability.

The Wage Code 2019:

  • Wage Code 2019 talks about the prohibition of discrimination in matters of wages and recruitment of employees.
  • It also prohibits the reduction of wages merely on the account of gender.
  • This code has the concept of 'floor wages', which will be a rate set by the central government after accounting for the minimum living standards of workers across areas.
  • This code is applicable to all employees irrespective of any wage limit.

Industrial Dispute Act (IDA):

  • IDA prohibits or forbids unfair labor practices which include discrimination at the workplace.
  • List of Unfair Labor Practices is listed under the 5th schedule of the act.

The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
This Act prohibits discrimination in the payment of wages based on gender, ensuring that men and women receive equal pay for the same work or work of a similar nature.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989:
While primarily focused on preventing atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, this Act also addresses workplace discrimination and harassment faced by individuals from these communities.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013:
This Act mandates the prevention and redressal of sexual harassment at the workplace. Employers are required to establish Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs) to address complaints and ensure a safe working environment for women.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016:
This Act protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits discrimination in employment, mandating reasonable accommodations and equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961:
The Maternity Benefit Act ensures that women employees are not discriminated against during pregnancy and motherhood. It provides for maternity leave and other benefits to support working mothers.

The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946:
This Act requires employers to define and publish standing orders regulating conditions of employment, including provisions against discrimination.

The Factories Act, 1948:
While primarily focused on workplace safety, the Factories Act indirectly contributes to preventing discrimination by setting standards for working conditions and ensuring worker welfare.

Concious And Unconcious Biases: The difference between concious and unconscious bias lies in awareness of one's action.

Concious Bias:
  • Illegal in the eyes of law as it leads to discrimination on various grounds.
  • Person is aware and cognizant about their biases.
  • Act with malicious intent.
Unconscious Bias:
  • Largely based upon the basis of facts, stereotypes or past experience.
  • Leads to unconscious prejudiced decision making without having malicious intent.

Discrimination At Workplace On The Basis Of Caste:
Discrimination on the basis of caste refers to the unjust and prejudiced treatment of individuals or groups based on their social caste or caste:like characteristics. Caste discrimination is a social issue that has been prevalent.

In India, despite legal measures to abolish caste:based discrimination, such as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, instances of discrimination still persist. Discrimination can occur in educational institutions, workplaces, and social settings. Members of lower castes, often referred to as Dalits or Scheduled Castes, may face challenges in accessing quality education, securing employment opportunities, and participating fully in social and cultural activities.

Discrimination At Workplace On The Basis Of Race in India:
India is known for its diverse population with various ethnicities and races, issues related to racial discrimination can still arise in the workplace. However, it's important to note that India's social dynamics are more complexly structured around factors such as religion, language, and region rather than a strict racial framework. Discrimination based on race, as is often discussed in other parts of the world, might manifest differently in the Indian context.

That said, discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity, broadly termed as racial discrimination, can still occur.

Here are some potential aspects of discrimination at the workplace in India:
  • Colorism and Appearance Bias: Discrimination based on skin color, which is often linked to racial and ethnic differences, is a concern. Individuals with darker skin tones might face biases or stereotypes that impact their professional growth.
  • Language and Regional Biases: Discrimination based on language or regional origin can affect individuals who speak a different language or come from a different region than the majority in a workplace.
  • Cultural Insensitivity: Lack of understanding or insensitivity towards cultural practices, traditions, or religious beliefs of certain groups can create a hostile work environment.

Applicability Of Constitution To The Private Sector:

There are instances in wjich indivisual file discrimination cases against private sector. We will try to understand the applicability of constitution provision on private sector through a case law.

A question arised in the case of Indian Medical Accociation vs. Union Of India, whether a private college can be held accountable for discrimination under constitution. In tis case it was interpretated along with Article 14,15,16 and 38 and with natitional aspiration of seeking equality in status, opportunity and socio:economic justice in a welfare state. This shows that the private sector also must not facilitate ideas of discriminations and in doing so, they shall be held liable for breaching of constitution.

Enforcement Mechanisms and Authorities:

Several authorities in India are responsible for enforcing labour laws and addressing workplace inequities:
  • Ministry of Labour and Employment: The Ministry plays a key role in formulating and implementing labour policies and laws, overseeing various labour:related issues, including discrimination, through its subordinate offices and agencies.
  • State Labour Departments: Each state in India has its own Labour Department responsible for enforcing labour laws within its jurisdiction. These departments play a crucial role in addressing workplace inequities at the state level.
  • Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs): Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, ICCs are established within organizations to address complaints of sexual harassment. These committees play a pivotal role in ensuring a safe working environment for women.
  • National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes: This national commission addresses issues related to discrimination against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, including workplace discrimination.
  • State Human Rights Commissions: State Human Rights Commissions play a role in addressing human rights violations, including workplace discrimination, within their respective states.

Legal Remedies for Workplace Discrimination in India:

Employees facing workplace discrimination in India have various legal remedies available:
  1. Filing Complaints with Authorities: Employees can file complaints with relevant authorities, such as the Ministry of Labour and Employment, State Labor Departments, or the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, depending on the nature of the discrimination.
  2. Approaching Labor Courts and Industrial Tribunals: Labor Courts and Industrial Tribunals have jurisdiction over employment:related disputes. Employees can approach these forums to seek remedies for workplace discrimination.
  3. Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs): Employees facing sexual harassment can file complaints with the ICC within their organization. The ICC conducts an inquiry and recommends action against the harasser.
  4. Legal Action under Anti:Discrimination Laws: Employees can take legal action under specific anti:discrimination laws, such as the Equal Remuneration Act, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, and others, to seek redress for discriminatory practices.

Challenges and Future Considerations:

Despite the legal framework in place, several challenges persist in addressing workplace inequities in India:
  • Awareness and Sensitization: There is a need for increased awareness and sensitization programs to educate employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities concerning workplace discrimination.
  • Effective Implementation: Ensuring effective implementation of anti:discrimination laws and swift resolution of complaints remains a challenge, requiring improved coordination between enforcement authorities.
  • Intersectionality: Recognizing the intersectionality of discrimination is crucial, as individuals may face discrimination based on multiple factors such as caste, gender, and disability simultaneously.
  • Promoting Diversity and Inclusion: Organizations need to proactively promote diversity and inclusion initiatives to create a workplace culture that values differences and fosters equality.

Addressing workplace discrimination in India requires a multi:faceted approach involving legal reforms, effective enforcement mechanisms, and a cultural shift towards inclusivity. By understanding the legal framework and labour laws, both employers and employees can contribute to creating workplaces that respect the rights and dignity of every individual, fostering a more equitable and harmonious work environment for all.

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