Equality and Diversity

 

This section aims to answer common equality and diversity questions raised by staff and students. If you have a question you want answering place email equality@port.ac.uk

 

Q. Are there any situations in which the University might be able to justify discrimination?

A. Yes, but only in very specific areas where the law says we can. In exceptional circumstances, the University can treat someone differently because of their age.

For example, in very limited areas there may be an age stipulation for a course because it is linked to a work area where there are also age restrictions. This might be due to NHS regulations about fitness to practice. It is unlikely to be able to justify age discrimination in any other circumstances at the University, as objective evidence must be available.

 

Q. What about issues of academic freedom? Can teaching staff use material in lectures that may upset students from faith communities? Can students discuss contentious issues in class?

A. While all staff and students have a legal responsibility not to discriminate against a student or colleague because of their faith, this should not stop appropriate academic debate that is legitimately part of the learning and teaching experience. However, care should be taken to facilitate honest discussion about concerns and not to cause offence through use of blasphemy or inappropriate humour.

 

Q. I might not know whether someone is gay, or disabled, or pregnant. If they are discriminated against but then turn out not to have that protected characteristic can they still complain?

A. Yes. If someone makes an assumption that a person is, for example, gay, disabled or pregnant but the person is not they can complain of discrimination by perception. All protected characteristics have protection from discrimination by perception under the Equality Act 2010.

 

Q. There are some staff who seem to have a lot of advantages because of the legislation. Surely it isn't fair that some of my colleagues can avoid teaching in evening when I cant't?

A. The University can treat disabled staff more favourably than non-disabled staff. This has been the case under the law for some time as it is recognised that, in some cases, making the adjustments that a disabled person may need to enable them to work might mean treating them more favourably. A non-disabled person cannot therefore claim unfair treatment if a colleague does not teach in the evening for a reason related to their disability. Staff with caring responsibilities for children, partner, or parents are also able to request flexible working (though the request can be turned down if there is good reason). Management have a duty to ensure there are good relationships between people and should manage any resentment caused in such situations.

 

Q. A student is refusing, on religious grounds, to undertake a piece of work with another student because he is gay. If I insist they work together can I be accused of religious discrimination?

A. This would not be religious discrimination. However students and staff who refuse to work with someone because of their sexual orientation could be accused of sexual orientation discrimination.

 

Q. What issues do staff working with pregnant students now need to consider?

A. Full guidance to staff and students on the implications of pregnancy and the support available can be found here.

 

Q. When I have my baby I want to breastfeed but still be able to come to lectures. What support does the University have to give me?

A. The University must ensure suitable arrangements are in place for breastfeeding mothers, whether they are staff or students. A suitable, hygienic and private place must be available for expressing breast milk and a refrigerator for storing the milk.

 

Q. Isn't it just common sense to put health and safety first, instead of letting students wear what they like in the laboratory?

A. Of course health and safety is important but there may be instances when a student wishes to wear particular clothing or jewellery for religious reasons. It is then crucial to get advice if there may be a health and safety issue. Both Chaplaincy and the Equality & Diversity Unit are happy to help. Guidance is also provided in the faith and religion e-books.

 

Q. I have heard that I can now claim discrimination if I am treated unfairly because of my association with a disabled person even if I am not disabled. Is this true?

A. Yes, one of the new areas of protection under the Equality Act 2010 is where you are discriminated against because of your association with someone who has a protected characteristic. This would include all the protected characteristics, for example, parents of disabled children, the partner of someone who has undergone gender reassignment, the friend of a gay student, etc.

 

Q. I often get together with a couple of colleagues for a drink at the pub after work. Someone told me I could be challenged as not all my colleagues come along. I don't deliberately leave anyone out, it's just some of us get on together more than others. Surely this doesn't matter?

A. This doesn't mean staff or students have to socialise with people you don't get on with. But you do need to check out why someone is not included and ensure they are not being disadvantaged or marginalised. Excluding someone because of a protected characteristic could be seen as harassment which is unlawful.

 

Q. What can I do if I think I have been discriminated against?

A. You should first try to resolve the matter informally by discussion and, if that fails, take the matter up with Head of Department or Head of Service. If the issue remains unresolved, the respective Staff Grievance and Code of Student Discipline procedures should be used. If this does not resolve the situation you can complain via the courts. Remember the University has Harassment Advisors who can offer, confidential, impartial support and guidance to you if you feel you are being bullied or harassed.