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How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.

Research & investigations


What you need to know


Employment research and investigations

Key inequalities in employmentThe Statement on Key Inequalities in Employment in Northern Ireland highlights our assessment of inequalities and differences in employment faced by equality groups across the Section 75 equality categories in Northern Ireland.

Download our statement on Key Inequalities in Employment in Northern Ireland:

Fair Employment Monitoring Report No.33 (Latest report)

Monitoring Report 33The total monitored workforce in 2019 was 578,403. This year’s report shows, for the first time since monitoring began, the share of the total monitored workforce from members of the Roman Catholic community was [50.1%] and was greater than from members of the Protestant community [49.9%].
In 2022,In the same period, the female share of the monitored workforce increased by 0.1 pp from the previous year (52.5%).

The monitored workforce consists of an estimated 62-65% of those in employment and covers private and public employers, with 11 or more employees working 16 hours or more, who are required to
 monitor the composition of their workforce in terms of community background and sex.

Further information:

Briefing paper: Equal access to and equal opportunities for all at work - NEW

The Equality Commission has noted changes to the workplace and labour market over the course of the past three years, particularly with the outworkings of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the impacts that the Covid 19 pandemic has had on the workplace, as well as a range of structural changes in workplace practices that have been noted since the Commission undertook its assessment of key inequalities in employment that it published in 2018. 

This briefing paper provides a high-level overview of available literature and identifies the key issues in employment and work that may be affecting the equality groups and those who are members of the equality categories who enjoy rights and protections under the equality legislation.

Shaping welcoming and inclusive workplaces

One fifth of NI workers who responded to an online questionnaire have personally experienced unwanted behaviour at work in the previous 12 months. Of these unwanted behaviours, 27% related to the person's sex, 24% were about religion and 20% about politics. One quarter of employees responding had witnessed unwanted behaviour at work.

Over 3,500 employees responded to a request from the Equality Commission to share their experiences at work, asking about diversity, inclusivity, and if employees felt safe and secure from harassment at work.

Chief Commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow said, "The topline figures are encouraging, with the majority of employees reporting that they have neither experienced (75%) nor witnessed (69%) unwanted behaviours in the workplace. 75% said their line managers made them welcome and supported, and 74% said their colleagues did the same.
 Read more about the findings>

Formal Investigation: Treatment of pregnant workers and mothers in Northern Ireland workplaces

Expecting EqualityThe Equality Commission conducted a formal investigation into the employment experiences of pregnant women and mothers, on maternity leave and on their return to work.

We explored whether pregnant women and mothers receive equal treatment in employment and identified both barriers to equality of opportunity and employment practices that women have found helpful and supportive.

Almost 1,000 women across Northern Ireland responded to an online survey sharing their experiences through focus group discussions and interviews. Employers were also given the opportunity to tell us about their experiences, concerns and good practices. 

The findings were launched at Titanic, Belfast, on 29 November 2016 – read the press release

Download the investigation's findings:

Following the investigation the Commission produced new guidance for employers on pregnancy and maternity in the workplace:

If you would like to know more about the investigation please contact Rosalynd Harkness, email:, Tel: 028 90500574


Employment inequalities in an economic downturn

We are committed to working with government departments, and with public and private employers to help ensure that the most vulnerable groups are not disproportionately hit by the economic recession. 

We commissioned a report that aimed to update understanding of the effect the economic downturn has had on the employment status and prospects of relevant groups across the nine equality grounds. This 2010 project aimed to inform the thinking of decision makers on the impact of the recession and strategies for dealing with it.

Employment inequalities in an economic downturn:


Migrant workers and inequality

The Commission’s formal investigation into the ‘Role of the Recruitment Sector in the Employment of Migrant Workers’ in 2010 found evidence of exploitation of migrant workers in Northern Ireland and revealed that despite a considerable body of legislation governing the sector, not all recruitment agencies worked within its terms and barriers to equality of opportunity existed for those who used their services.

For further information download:



Childcare and the economic participation of women

We commissioned an expert paper on the type, extent and delivery of childcare provision necessary to maximise the economic participation of women within Northern Ireland.  It makes the case for improvements in childcare that would allow women a more equal opportunity to work.

Download: Childcare - Maximising the economic participation of women:

Education migration and non-return

We carried out research to help us to understand why people leave Northern Ireland to study and do not return and the impact of this educational migration has on the religious composition of the pool of qualified labour available to employers in Northern Ireland.
Key Findings:
  • In 2005/06, more Roman Catholic (40%) than Protestant (34%) students progressed to higher education. This was influenced by a number of factors, including different levels of educational attainment, aspirations and culture.
  • For all school leavers, regardless of religion or community background, the share of girls (44%) continuing on to university was much higher than that for boys (31%).
  • There is a clear link between the level of deprivation in the area in which a student lives and the likelihood of progressing to Higher Education.
  • In 2005/06, 29% (2,736) of NI school leavers migrated to study in Great Britain. The total number of Protestants (1,217) and Roman Catholics (1,148) was broadly similar. However, Protestants (34%) were proportionately more likely than Roman Catholics (23%) to migrate.
  • Factors that influence educational migration include personal choice, level of affluence and higher education policy. There is little recent evidence of political "chill factors" impacting on educational migration.
  • Around two-thirds of Northern Ireland students who studied in Great Britain do not return to Northern Ireland in the short-to-medium term.
  • Factors that influence graduate migration include employment opportunities, local ties to regions and knowledge of other regions.

Formal investigations into employment issues

The Commission can conduct a formal investigation under the provisions of most of the anti-discrimination legislation, currently excluding the sexual orientation employment legislation and age legislation, which only applies to employment and training.

In all cases we have the power to obtain information, make recommendations, issue reports, issue non-discrimination notices and use legally binding agreements or directions.

Formal investigations may be based on a general principle of achieving equality of opportunity under one of the discriminatory grounds, such as race, religion, sex, etc. If they are based on a belief that discrimination has occurred, they are confined to the investigation of a named person or persons.

Before undertaking an investigation we will consider the importance of the issue to equality and in the context of the strategic value of the investigation in relation to its current business objectives.

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