Compensation in discrimination cases increased

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination at work in relation to the nine “protected characteristics”: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

Unfair dismissal compensation is limited to financial losses and is usually capped at a year’s salary. However, in discrimination claims, an employee can also be compensated for non-financial losses including an “injury to feelings” award, i.e. for mental or emotional injury. In a case called Vento v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police in 2003, the Courts set down guidelines or “bands” for the amount of compensation to be awarded for injured feelings.

Since the Vento Bands are subject to annual inflationary increases, new Vento Bands now apply to discrimination claims issued on or after 6 April 2019. The new bands are:

  • lower band (for less serious cases): £900 to £8,800;

  • middle band (for serious cases) £8,800 to £26,300; and

  • top band (for very serious cases): £26,300 to £44,000.

In very exceptional cases, the £44,000 limit may even be exceeded.

In addition to injury to feelings awards, employees can also recover compensation for any loss of earnings they suffer as a result of acts of discrimination – e.g. when they lose their job or have to take long-term sick leave. Unlike in unfair dismissal cases, there is no total cap on compensation so it can reach hundreds of thousands of pounds or more in particularly serious cases of discrimination.

In order to avoid facing this type of claim, it is important for employers to try to prevent discrimination in the workplace and address such complaints swiftly if they do arise. Some of the ways in which they can do this are as follows:

  1.  Ensure that they have a written grievance procedure in place which sets out how their employees can make complaints about workplace discrimination.

  2. Train their employees on how they can raise a grievance, how their complaint will be dealt with and investigated, and the possible disciplinary action which may result from acts of discrimination.

  3. Make sure their managers are given equality and diversity training.  

  4. Treat all complaints of discrimination seriously, even if they have only been raised informally.

  5. Regularly review their policies and procedures to ensure they do not indirectly discriminate against any employees with protected characteristics.