Championing Workplace Equality: Anti-Discrimination Measures In Indian Labor Law

Championing Workplace Equality: Anti-Discrimination Measures In Indian Labor Law


This article explores the anti-discrimination framework within Indian labor law, emphasizing the importance of ensuring fair treatment and equal opportunity in the workplace amidst the country’s diverse social landscape. It begins with a historical context, highlighting India’s deep-seated issues of social stratification and the framers’ constitutional commitment to equality. Key constitutional provisions such as Articles 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, and 21 form the foundation of anti-discrimination measures, complemented by significant legislation including the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013.

The judiciary’s role in enforcing these laws is underscored through landmark judicial interventions. The article discusses implementation and enforcement mechanisms involving regulatory bodies like the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Women, and highlights procedural avenues for redressal. Despite robust legal frameworks, challenges such as societal attitudes, implementation gaps, retaliation against complainants, and intersectional discrimination persist. The article suggests best practices for employers, including the development of comprehensive policies, regular training, diverse hiring practices, fostering a supportive environment, and conducting regular audits to promote an inclusive workplace. While India has made significant strides in promoting workplace equality, continuous effort from all stakeholders is necessary to address ongoing challenges and ensure a discrimination-free environment. The article calls for collaborative efforts to uphold the vision of equal employment opportunities, fostering a fair and inclusive future for all workers.


Anti-discrimination measures in Indian labor law represent a fundamental aspect of the country’s commitment to promoting equality and justice in the workplace. These measures are designed to prevent and address discriminatory practices based on caste, religion, gender, race, disability, and other attributes, ensuring that all individuals receive fair treatment and equal opportunities. Rooted in the principles enshrined in the Constitution of India, these legal provisions are further reinforced by various statutory enactments and international conventions to which India is a signatory. Prominent legislations such as the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, highlight India’s proactive approach to fostering an inclusive and equitable labor environment. By implementing these laws, India aims to eliminate systemic discrimination, protect vulnerable groups, and promote a balanced and fair workplace for all its citizens.


The historical development of anti-discrimination measures in labor law in India reflects the nation’s broader struggle for social justice and equality, deeply influenced by its colonial history and post-independence legislative reforms.

During the British colonial period, labor laws were primarily designed to address the needs of the colonial administration and the burgeoning industrial sector, with little regard for discrimination or social equity. However, the socio-economic inequities and caste-based discrimination prevalent in Indian society necessitated a more inclusive approach to labor legislation.

The genesis of comprehensive anti-discrimination measures can be traced to the post-independence era, when the Indian Constitution, adopted in 1950, laid the foundation for a democratic and egalitarian society. Articles 14, 15, and 16 of the Constitution explicitly prohibit discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth, and mandate equal opportunities in public employment.

Building on these constitutional guarantees, the Indian government enacted a series of labor laws aimed at curbing discriminatory practices and promoting social justice. The Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 was a landmark piece of legislation that sought to eliminate gender-based wage disparities by ensuring equal pay for equal work for men and women. The Act also prohibits discrimination against women in matters of recruitment and employment. Further, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 was introduced to protect marginalized communities from social and economic discrimination, including in the workplace. This Act, along with affirmative action policies like reservations in employment, has been instrumental in promoting the inclusion of historically oppressed groups in the labor market. The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995, replaced by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016, has significantly contributed to the protection of disabled individuals against workplace discrimination. These laws mandate reasonable accommodation and equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.

In recent years, the Indian legal framework has continued to evolve to address emerging forms of discrimination. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 represents a critical step towards creating a safe and inclusive work environment for women, addressing the pervasive issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Additionally, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2019 marks a significant advancement in protecting the rights of transgender individuals, including their rights in the workplace, ensuring non-discrimination in employment and promoting social inclusion.

These legislative measures, underpinned by the constitutional commitment to equality, reflect India’s ongoing efforts to combat workplace discrimination and promote a diverse and inclusive labor market. The evolution of anti-discrimination laws in India underscores a broader commitment to social justice and human rights, continuously adapting to the changing socio-economic landscape and the needs of its diverse population.


The colonial legacy significantly influenced the development of early labor laws in India. During British rule, labor legislation primarily aimed to serve colonial economic interests, focusing on regulating the workforce to enhance productivity and control.

Early Labor Laws:

  1. Factories Act of 1881: This Act marked one of the earliest attempts to regulate labor conditions in India. It introduced provisions for the health and safety of factory workers, restricted child labor, and set working hours for women and children. However, its primary intent was to address the concerns raised by British social reformers and to placate international criticism regarding labor exploitation in colonial industries.
  2. Trade Unions Act of 1926: This Act provided legal recognition to trade unions in India, allowing them to register and function within a legal framework. The colonial administration introduced this law in response to growing labor unrest and the burgeoning labor movement, aiming to regulate union activities and curb strikes.
  3. Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1923: This legislation required employers to provide compensation to workers for injuries sustained during employment. It was a significant step towards recognizing workers’ rights to a safe working environment and financial security in case of work-related injuries.

The primary motivation behind these early labor laws was to ensure the stability and efficiency of the colonial economy. The British administration sought to mitigate labor unrest, improve labor productivity, and present an image of moral responsibility to the international community. As a result, while these laws introduced important labor rights, they often fell short of providing comprehensive protection and welfare for workers. Moreover, the enforcement of these laws was generally weak, and many provisions were inadequately implemented, reflecting the colonial government’s prioritization of economic exploitation over genuine labor welfare. The legacy of these early labor laws set a precedent for subsequent labor legislation in independent India, which sought to build upon and rectify the limitations of colonial-era policies.

Post-independence, India’s constitutional framework laid a robust foundation for labor laws, aiming to protect workers’ rights and promote social justice. The Constitution of India, the supreme law of the land, lays a strong foundation for anti-discrimination measures. Articles 14, 15, and 16 are particularly significant in this context.

Article 14, ensures equality before the law and equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. This principle of equality is fundamental to the Indian legal system and serves as a cornerstone for various anti-discrimination statutes.

Article 15, explicitly prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. This article empowers the State to make special provisions for women, children, and socially and educationally backward classes, including the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs).

Article 16, guarantees equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. It prohibits discrimination in employment or appointment to any office under the State on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence, or any of them.

The POSH Act has been instrumental in addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. However, its effectiveness is often undermined by factors such as lack of awareness, societal stigma, and fear of retaliation. Employers must proactively create an environment that encourages reporting and ensures the safety and dignity of women employees.


In recent years, India has undertaken significant labor law reforms aimed at consolidating and simplifying its complex web of labor regulations. The four labor codes – the Code on Wages, the Industrial Relations Code, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, and the Code on Social Security are designed to streamline labor laws and improve compliance.

Code on Wages, 2019: The Code on Wages, 2019, consolidates laws relating to wages and aims to ensure timely payment and fair remuneration. It includes provisions for equal remuneration and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender.

Industrial Relations Code, 2020: The Industrial Relations Code, 2020, seeks to foster harmonious employer-employee relations. It includes provisions to protect workers from unfair labor practices and discrimination in employment.

Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020: The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020, aims to provide a safe and healthy working environment for workers. It includes measures to prevent discrimination and ensure equal treatment in the workplace

Code on Social Security, 2020: The Code on Social Security, 2020, consolidates laws relating to social security and aims to extend social security benefits to all workers, including those in the informal sector. It includes provisions to protect workers from discriminatory practices in the provision of social security benefits.


Affirmative action, through reservations in education and employment, is a significant measure to address historical injustices and promote social equity in India. Reservations for SCs, STs, and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in public sector jobs and educational institutions are enshrined in the Constitution and various laws.


Reservations have played a crucial role in improving the representation of marginalized communities in public employment. However, the implementation of reservation policies in the private sector remains a contentious issue. Advocates argue that extending reservations to the private sector is essential for achieving true social equity, while opponents raise concerns about meritocracy and business efficiency.


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives have become an important tool for promoting workplace inclusivity and addressing discrimination. Under the Companies Act, 2013, companies meeting certain criteria are required to spend a percentage of their profits on CSR activities, which can include initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Companies can leverage their CSR funds to implement programs that promote gender equality, support persons with disabilities, and provide opportunities for marginalized communities. These initiatives can include training and development programs, scholarships, infrastructure improvements, and awareness campaigns.


The judiciary plays a critical role in interpreting and enforcing anti-discrimination measures in labor laws. Landmark judgments by the Supreme Court and High Courts have significantly shaped the legal landscape and provided clarity on various aspects of workplace discrimination.


Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997): This landmark judgment laid down guidelines to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace, which later formed the basis for the POSH Act.

National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (2014): The Supreme Court recognized the rights of transgender persons, directing the government to provide reservations in employment and education and to take steps to eliminate discrimination.

Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (2018): The decriminalization of homosexuality by the Supreme Court paved the way for greater acceptance and protection of LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace.


Anti-discrimination measures in Indian labor law are pivotal to the nation’s commitment to fostering equality and justice within its diverse workforce. These measures, rooted in the Constitution and supported by various statutory enactments, aim to eliminate systemic discrimination and promote a balanced and inclusive work environment. The evolution of these laws reflects India’s broader historical struggle for social justice, transitioning from colonial-era policies to robust post-independence legislation. Landmark laws such as the Equal Remuneration Act, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act exemplify the country’s proactive approach to safeguarding the rights of marginalized groups.

While affirmative action and CSR initiatives contribute to enhancing workplace inclusivity, the ongoing debate on extending reservations to the private sector underscores the complexities involved in achieving true social equity. Nonetheless, India’s continuous efforts to adapt and strengthen anti-discrimination laws illustrate a steadfast dedication to creating a fair and just labor market.

Ultimately, these measures are not just legal obligations but are fundamental to the broader vision of an egalitarian society, where every individual, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to thrive and contribute to the nation’s growth. As India progresses, the effective implementation and enforcement of these laws will be crucial in ensuring that the principles of equality and justice are upheld in every workplace across the country.

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Bombay HC: The State is ideally a quintessence of justice and a model litigant

Title: State of Maharashtra and Anr. v. Ajay Rajendra Pawar.

Decided on: 23.08.2023

+ REVIEW PETITION (ST) NO. 29872 OF 2019


Facts of the Case:

The court is addressing two review petitions arising from an earlier common order issued on November 28, 2017, related to three writ petitions filed in 2016. The original petitions sought the enforcement of an order from September 9, 2014, in which the Minister of State for Revenue directed the state authorities to refund amounts deposited by the petitioners for leasing sand ghats. The petitioners argued that due to intervening circumstances beyond their control, they were unable to fully excavate the sand ghats, and therefore, the proportionate amounts they deposited should be refunded.


The main issues revolve around the review of the 2014 order by another Minister of State for Revenue in a subsequent order dated July 2, 2019, and the subsequent actions of the state authorities. Additionally, the court examines the discriminatory treatment by the state authorities in implementing the orders for different petitioners.


The original petitioners argued that the subsequent order of July 2, 2019, was passed without jurisdiction, as it reviewed an already final order and was made subject to the result of pending writ petitions, even though no such petitions were pending at the time. They contended that the state authorities complied with the original order despite the subsequent order. The petitioners pointed out that the actions of the state authorities were discriminatory, as they complied with the 2017 order for one petitioner but filed review petitions for the other two.

The court criticized the state authorities for their discriminatory attitude and arbitrary actions, highlighting that the third beneficiary of the 2017 order had been treated differently. The court emphasized that the state, as a model litigant, should not perpetuate inequality and arbitrariness.


The court rejected the request for additional time to obtain instructions from the Advocate General, considering the peculiar circumstances of the case and the injustice that would be done to the original petitioners. The court dismissed the review petitions filed by the state, stating that they should have realized their mistake and implemented the original order dated September 9, 2014, for all petitioners, just as they did for the third petitioner.

The court directed the state authorities to disregard the subsequent order of July 2, 2019, and implement the original order of September 9, 2014, for the two original petitioners. It ordered the state to pay the due amounts to the petitioners within three weeks from the date of the order, and in case of failure, imposed a simple interest rate of 7.0% per annum on the amounts due from November 28, 2017, until the release of the amounts. Additionally, the state was ordered to pay costs of Rs. 5 lakhs to each of the petitioners, which could be recovered from the concerned officers at the state’s discretion.

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Written by- Aparna Gupta, University Law College & Dept. of Studies in Law

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