Cap on discrimination awards

June 15, 2012, 8:47 AM GMT+0

55% would cap discrimination awards, 32% say no cap; 36% think equality law has ‘gone too far’

When it comes to the serious matter of discrimination claims in the workplace, our poll on the topic shows that over half of Britons believe law should be overhauled to introduce a cap on the amount of compensation claimants can receive.

  • Over half of Britons (55%) agree that there should be a limit to discrimination awards
  • Just under a third (32%) feel there should not be a cap on serious claims of discrimination
  • 18% don’t know whether there should a cap on discrimination compensation or not

Protection from discrimination covers situations where an employer may treat certain employees differently to others because of a protected characteristic. While current compensation in unfair dismissal cases is capped at £68,400, discrimination cases have no upper limit on compensation, which some argue should no longer be the case. Many also feel laws promoting equality have “gone too far.”

  • Over a third (36%) thinks legislation that ensures equality in the workplace on grounds of race, gender and disability has gone too far
  • Another 36% think the current balance is about right
  • 15% say it has not gone far enough to protect people from discrimination

The recent Beecroft Report on employment law, known mostly for its recommended controversial ‘no fault dismissal’ policy, has also suggested the introduction of caps for some elements of discrimination awards. This scheme has not been taken up by Downing Street, partly because at the moment the UK is constrained in capping ultimate pay-outs by EU law.

High awards can 'warn employers'

The Ministry of Justice reported that the average awards for discrimination in 2010/2011 were between £8,515 for religious discrimination and £14,137 for disability discrimination. Meanwhile the highest average award was £30,289 for age discrimination. The BBC recently reported on the compensation award of £4.5 million made to Dr Eva Michalak, an ex-employee of the Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust, for race and gender discrimination, making it one of the highest awards by a tribunal.

'Pure employment law' promote the importance of an award of this scale, advising: “While this case may be an extreme example, it is a reminder to employers about the importance of avoiding discrimination in your workplace.”

A cap will ‘boost discrimination’

Many feel new proposals in the Beecroft plan will not help businesses by boosting productivity, but rather doing more to boost acts of discrimination. Business professor Stefan Stern writes in the Guardian that this scheme would only make matters worse for a workforce already experiencing job insecurity, and would remove protection for those dismissed purely because of their race or gender.

“Coming at a time of budget cuts to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, this move could really not be better designed to increase discrimination and inequality at work” writes Stern.

Last year a group of notable businessmen led by Sir Michael Snyder requested that tribunal awards for discrimination cases be capped at £50,000 - quite a significant overhaul when considering Dr Michalak’s case where she was awarded over £1.6 million for loss of earnings and pension alone. The business figureheads claimed that their request was necessary due to growing concerns over that unlimited awards leading to employees “without genuine grievances” making discrimination claims.

"At present, claims for discrimination are occurring with monotonous regularity in situations that are clearly spurious,” said Sir Michael. “We also need to avoid excessive pre-tribunal settlements that some commentators have described as 'legalised extortion'."

See the full results of our survey here (pg 6)