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Equal Opportunity in the Workplace

What is employment discrimination?

Employment discrimination is the unfair treatment of an employee or an applicant (prospective employee) based on the group, class or category to which they belong rather than on their individual merit. Under the Equal Opportunity Act, 2000 (the Act) it is illegal to discriminate against an employee or applicant based on their status, including their gender, race, ethnicity, origin (inclusive of geographical origin), religion, marital status, or disability

Students of the Hugh Wooding Law School Human Rights Law Clinic were each given the opportunity to write an article for the he “Law Made Simple” column in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper. These topics ranged from analysis of specific legislation, to general legal concepts. The aim of this exercise was to teach the students how to write about complex legal issues, for the average newspaper reader.

The articles were edited by the Clinic’s coordinator Mr. Jason Nathu, and will appear in the Trinidad Guardian over the next few months.

Next in the series is an article by Cheyenne Lall, who examines the issue of equal opportunity in the workplace:

Your employer or prospective employer would be discriminating against you if, by reason of your status, he treats you less favourably than another person of a different status in conditions which are similar to, or are not considerably different from yours.

Discrimination against applicants

Under the Act, it is unlawful for an employer or potential employer to deliberately refuse to offer employment to an applicant because of his or her status. An employer is prohibited from discriminating as regards the terms and conditions on which he offers employment as well. An employer would be considered to be acting in a discriminatory manner if he bases such decisions on the status of the applicant rather than on his or her merits.

Discrimination against employees

An employer is prohibited from discriminating against a person employed by him in the terms and conditions he affords that person during employment; in the manner in which he affords an employee access to opportunities (promotions, training, or any benefit associated with employment); or by refusing or deliberately failing to afford his employee access to these opportunities.

 What can you do?

If you feel that you have been discriminated against in the situations mentioned above because on your status, you can lodge a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission (Commission). You may authorise someone to lodge a complaint on your behalf if a disability prevents you from personally doing so.

In lodging a complaint, you are required to fill out a complaint form setting out:

  1. Your contact information and the contact information of the person you are lodging a complaint against.
  2. The date and details of the alleged act of discrimination.
  3. Any supporting documents or evidence can be attached to the complaint form.

This complaint must be lodged with the Commission within six months of the date of the alleged act of discrimination. The Commission may accept complaints that are lodged with them after this six month period, but this is only done in exceptional circumstances. The Commission will notify you in writing when it has received your complaint within 14 days of receipt.

The Commission will investigate your complaint to determine if there is evidence of discrimination, and thus a breach of the Act. If there is evidence of discrimination, the Commission will attempt to settle your matter through conciliation. If it cannot be settled by reaching a conciliation agreement, the Commission may refer the matter to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal with your consent, which will then make an order on the matter.

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