Could you be fired because of discrimination? We all like to think it won't happen to us. But seeing as people have been fired for being an unmarried mother, previously being a call girl and being kinky, how do you know it won't happen?
The case Flynn v Power is an EU case that, by EU Law, is now a part of UK law. Therefore, you can’t be fired for being an “unmarried mother”. However, apart from this, your family choice is not protected by anti discrimination laws. 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.
And while LGBTQ people are protected in the UK, (People have been fired for being transgender in the USA), 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 from her teaching job for being a sex worker in her student days. 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.
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 unprofessional. 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. There are also no laws to stop you being discriminated because of your hairstyle, piercings or other body modifications like tattoos or scarifications.
Obviously anti-discrimination laws as they now stand don't protect us. It's easy to say that we need to strengthen anti-discrimination laws and extend their scope so that they protect more people. But 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 the protection afforded by current laws were extended to other groups. So strengthening anti discrimination laws won't help all that much as even if employers can't fire you for having stretched ears or being poly, employers could use other reasons to fire you. And if strengthening laws won't help, changing attitudes might. Discrimination wouldn’t exist without stigmatising attitudes, and when there is no more discrimination there won’t even be any need for discrimination laws.
To conclude, it's the changing of prejudicial attitudes that will ultimately protect us. But until that happens, any of us could be fired for our lifestyle, family form or previous jobs. You might feel safe- but so did most people who got fired for simply being who they were.
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