Family Law
Employment, Discrimination and Equality Law 16 February 2024

What is Equality?

At its core, equality recognises that all individuals have the same inherent value and should receive the same treatment. However, the concept and application of equality is not straight forward. Equality is typically classed as formal or substantive.

Formal vs Substantive Equality

Formal equality: means that people should be treated equally regardless of their differences. Formal equality operates under the assumption that by extending equal rights to all, inequality is eliminated.  Under this theory uniformity of treatment is equated with fairness. Often, this approach fails to recognise the nature of disadvantage experienced by marginalised groups.

Substantive equality: considers the reality that rights, entitlements, opportunities, and access are not equally distributed throughout society and therefore, a uniform approach cannot achieve equality. Substantive equality recognises that the same application of rules to unequal groups can have unequal results.

For example, policies that appear neutral and apply to everyone may have a negative effect on people with a particular protected attribute or characteristic such as sex, race or disability. To achieve substantive equality, workplaces cannot ignore individual circumstances.

Substantive equality recognises an individual’s unique circumstances and seeks to promote access, participation and accommodation in a dignified way.

Equality in the workplace

Equality and discrimination laws impose obligations on workplaces to address workplace inequality. Please contact our Employment, Discrimination and Equality team if you have any questions about your workplace obligations.

Kate Rowland.
Kate Rowland Law Graduate Corporate & Commercial View profile
Alexandra Gronow.
Alexandra Gronow Special Counsel Employment, Discrimination & Equality Law View profile
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