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Discrimination in the law has a different meaning to how we use discrimination in every day speech. The law protects you if you are discriminated against because of one of these 9 characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

These are called ‘protected characteristics’. The law also offers some protection to people on part-time and fixed term contracts. The Equality Act 2010 sets out the protected characteristics and the different types of discrimination.

Being discriminated against is an awful feeling and can have serious consequences for your career and for your health. If you feel that you are being discriminated against by your employer it is important that you seek help. We help hundreds of people every week who are facing discrimination and our experienced advisers can help you too.

Types of discrimination

Discrimination can take all sorts of different forms, including; excluding you from work activities like meetings or training, not promoting you or not offering you a job, or even making you work particular days or in a particular ways. In fact, any way in which you are treated differently from your colleagues because of a protected characteristic can be discrimination.

There are several different types of discrimination.

Direct Discrimination

This is when your employer discriminates against you because of a protected characteristic. For example; you are not offered training or another opportunity because they think you are too old.

Indirect Discrimination

This is when your employer has a policy, practice or a criterion that disadvantages people with a protected characteristic. For example; your employer insists on meetings at times when you have childcare or religious responsibilities.

If your employer has a good business reason for the policy, practice or criterion, then they may be able to justify it and defend any discrimination claim. For example; everyone is expected to work on one weekend a month as the employer’s shop is open on weekends.


This is when your employer treats you badly because you have relied on a right that the Equality Act 2010 gives you. For example; you should not be badly treated because you have raised a grievance about being discriminated against, or given evidence at a grievance hearing or supported a colleague who has raised a grievance.


This is where your employer allows behaviour that violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading humiliating or offensive environment for you. The behaviour has to be because of a protected characteristic you have, it cannot just be bad behaviour. For example; if you are being bullied because of your sexuality or religion.

If you are being harassed or victimised at work but it is not linked to a protected characteristic, you may have a claim for constructive unfair dismissal or under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. This Act can protect people who are being harassed but not because of a protected characteristic.

Our experienced advisers can help you consider all your options, advise you on whether you have a claim against your employer and talk you through any practical steps you should take.

Perceived Discrimination

This is when you are being treated badly because your employer thinks you have a protected characteristic which you do not have. For example; you would still be protected if your employer was discriminating against you because they think you are homosexual even if you are heterosexual.

Associative Discrimination

This is where your employer is treating you badly because you are associated with someone with a protected characteristic. For example; you are denied a promotion because your employer knows that you are caring for a disabled child.

Reasonable Adjustments

If you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially affects your ability to do normal day-to-day tasks you meet the criteria for being disabled under the Equality Act 2010. If you are disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, your employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to help you do your job. Reasonable adjustments can be anything that makes it easier for you and is not too difficult for your employer to do. For example; changing your working hours or providing equipment like an ergonomic keyboard or screen reader. Whether or not something is a reasonable adjustment will depend on your exact situation, what you are asking for and the size and resources of your employer.

You can find more information and assistance on matters of discrimination on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.


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