In a surprising decision the government have announced that ‘caste’ will not be included as an aspect of race under the Equality Act 2010, instead choosing to rely on emerging case law to develop the appropriate legal framework for claims of caste discrimination.
This decision is a culmination of a lengthy public consultation into the matter incorporating over 16,000 responses. The government attributed their decision to the belief that instances of caste discrimination were “extremely low”, referring to the fact that only three cases of caste-based discrimination have ever been lodged with the courts. Secondly, the topic of caste was deemed to be “too difficult to define” and therefore open to misinterpretation.
Caste, typically associated with the Indian Hindu community, is characterised as a hierarchical class structure in which things such as an individual’s job and marital prospects are determined at birth. Although recorded cases are rare, one such case (Tirkey v Chandhok) saw the court rule that the employee had been discriminated against, citing the association between caste and ethnic origin. As a result, the employer had to pay the claimant over £180,000 in unpaid wages, as well as an additional £35,000 for combined direct and indirect race discrimination.
The government have agreed to look at the matter again should any future cases pass the employment appeal tribunal (EAT) stage and look to present a challenge to established case law. However, at the moment it would appear that organisations and their staff will be forced to proceed without legislative guidance on the matter.
Although caste has not been added as an aspect of race, organisations still need to take note of any grievance complaints which make reference to caste. Organisations should also ensure HR personnel and line managers are familiar with the concept and act appropriately if they suspect caste-based discrimination may be taking place.