While the law protects people from being discriminated against due to their protected characteristics, there are certain cases when discriminatory policies, criteria, or practices (PCP) may be lawful. Objective Justification is when a business provides a legitimate business reason for their discriminatory PCPs. In this article we will talk about what legitimate business objectives and objective justifications are, to give you a wider range of understanding on the topic of how discrimination is handled within employment law.
What are objective justifications?
Objective justification does not mean that a business can weasel its way around the law in order to discriminate against people with protected characteristics, instead it allows businesses to create PCPs which may end up indirectly discriminating against a protected characteristic but are necessary to achieve the goals of the business. In order to be an objective justification, a business’s PCP;
- Must serve to help the business achieve a business’s objective(s);
- The objective must have a degree of importance to the business, no matter how little or how vague; and
- The PCP must deliver results towards achieving this specified business objective and it can only be used if another less discriminatory PCP cannot be used instead to achieve the objective instead. This is required in order to prevent a business from claiming it has an objective justification for its discriminatory PCPs when it is in fact not achieving its claimed objectives.
What are business objectives?
As stated earlier, an objective justification can only be used to justify a discriminatory PCP if it exists to actually achieve a business objective. A business objective, also referred to as a legitimate business aim, is something which a business wishes to achieve. This aim must not be discriminatory in and of itself. Examples of some legitimate business aims might be to improve the efficiency of a business, to improve welfare at work, or improve customer satisfaction. These are a handful of examples of potential legitimate business aims, and there are many other potential business aims which a business could be working towards.
Example of Objective Justification
To better understand legitimate business objectives and objective justifications, here is a theoretical example. A construction company may set a legitimate business objective to improve workplace safety and speed up construction times. To achieve this, they may set hiring criteria, and policies in place which specify that their construction workers must have a high level of physical fitness and ability to lift a large amount of weight. This would make sense for the job role, which requires a lot of physical labour. Such PCPs would serve the business objectives of efficiency and workplace safety, since someone attempting to lift objects heavier than they can handle would lead to potential injury of themselves or those around them. However, these policies indirectly discriminate against disabled people, and, depending on the weight carrying limit, potentially women as well. This is because many people who have those protected characteristics (but not all) will not be able to fit the requirements because of reasons related to their protected characteristics. In this case, the PCPs are not designed to discriminate but incidentally do. The construction company can claim objective justification for these PCPs, because they are necessary to the business’ objectives of providing workplace safety and faster construction times.
Is cost saving a legitimate business aim?
Cost saving is a muddy issue on the topic of legitimate business aims. UK law takes the stance that cost saving alone cannot be a legitimate business aim, however if there is a legitimate aim then cost saving can be an additional business aim. This is known as the ‘cost plus’ principle. People argue that this system leads to some problems, such as the question that if cost saving cannot be a reliable legitimate aim on its own, how can it be reliable as a secondary aim?
As well as this, people argue that employers tend to put PCPs in place as a more cost-effective solution to a problem that could alternatively be solved by implementing something which costs them a lot of money. For all of this, a legitimate business aim which seeks to reduce cost by claiming a problem which a PCP can solve would be fine, however just stating a business’ aim is to ‘reduce cost’ would not be a legitimate business aim.
Going back to our theoretical construction company from earlier, this company could potentially achieve its goals by purchasing expensive tools and vehicles to achieve both of its business objectives instead of creating indirectly discriminatory PCPs. However, the company may not be able to afford to purchase most of the equipment without putting the company in danger financially, in which case they may add cost saving as an additional business objective, which would allow them to continue to use their current PCPs.
It can be tricky to create PCPs which are necessary for a business to meet its objectives which are not accidentally indirectly discriminatory in some way. However, as discussed in this article, if it is the only viable option a company can claim that they have a justification that the PCPs are required to achieve their objectives.
If you are concerned that your business aims may be disciminatory, and have any questions about objective justification, please contact us by calling
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