Social Backgrounds and Work – does class still matter?

Earlier this week, Frances O’Grady, the head of the TUC (Trades Union Congress) called for Parliament to outlaw discrimination against working-class people at work, calling for companies to report any gaps in pay between workers from different social backgrounds. She issued a challenge to politicians to outlaw “discrimination against working-class people”, following a study by the TUC.

The report ‘Building Working Class Power: How to address inequality’, revealed that:

  • Working-class graduates faced unfavourable bias at interviews;
  • Graduates from wealthier backgrounds were more than twice as likely to be on a £30,000 starting salary than graduates with working-class backgrounds;
  • Those from wealthier families are almost 80% more likely to be in a professional job than their working-class counterparts; and,
  • People from working-class backgrounds earned 24% less a year than those from middle and upper class backgrounds, and, when those from a working-class background entered professional jobs, they still earned 17% less than their wealthier colleagues.

She demonstrated her point by referring to the behaviour of, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, who was widely criticised for slouching across three seats in the chamber during a crucial Brexit debate last week: “Let’s be honest, Britain is still blighted by old-fashioned snobbery, too. Inflated egos and a sense of entitlement. Picture Jacob Rees-Mogg. Treating the government frontbench like his own living room sofa”.

The Law

Currently under English law, class or socio-economic status are not ‘protected characteristics’, as are gender, race, disability and others. Across Europe, there are many countries that specifically disallow discrimination on the grounds of socio-economic status and social origin.

The TUC make a good case for specific protection demonstrating how people from working-class backgrounds face direct forms of discrimination, including adverse employer bias during job applications and interviews.

What is far more difficult to detect however is indirect discrimination. The TUC considered one example to be the use of unpaid internships as a gateway into jobs. It also looked at more subtle forms of discrimination, from who was invited to networking events, received mentoring or was provided with opportunities for promotion.

Practical Considerations

Many of us will have engaged in unconscious bias, whether it is judging an accent, age, dress-sense, or behaviours. These biases are likely to be influenced by our own background, cultural and environmental factors and personal experiences. Unfortunately, in a recruitment and employment context, such biases can lead to individuals being discriminated against, sometimes inadvertently.

Blind hiring is on the rise, with companies being far more willing to use anonymised demographic data about candidates from recruiters to minimise bias. This does not eradicate the existence of bias, but goes some way in attempting to minimise it.

Having a diverse workforce, making considered decisions and rotating who undertakes hiring can all help. Having clear policies on recruitment and discrimination, in whatever form, will make an employer’s stance clear and be useful in the event of a claim.

We can advise and guide you in respect of all aspects of employment law and discrimination, from preparing your policies and advising on grievances, to handling claims. Please contact LF Legal today on +44(0)203 146 3549 / e-mail: [email protected]

Disclaimers

All our articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information provided.

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