Workplace discrimination legislation (the Equality Act 2010) protects people with ‘protected characteristics’ from unfair treatment. Protected characteristics include gender, marital status, gender reassignment, pregnancy, maternity, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and age.
There are four main types of discrimination at work and a further two forms of disability discrimination.
Direct discrimination occurs where someone is treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic. This means that the person claiming direct discrimination has to show that they have been treated less favourably than a real or hypothetical comparator whose circumstances (apart from the protected characteristic) are not materially different to theirs. The exception to this is pregnancy and maternity discrimination where formal comparators are not required.
Also covered is less favourable treatment that occurs because of someone’s association with a person who has a protected characteristic. An example of this could be when someone suffers because their partner is disabled. In addition when someone is treated less favourably because they are perceived to have a protected characteristic they can bring a claim. This might occur where the treatment is because someone is thought to be gay.
Indirect discrimination is concerned with acts, decisions or policies (broadly speaking) which are not intended to treat anyone less favourably, but which in practice have the effect of disadvantaging a group of people with a particular protected characteristic. Where such an action disadvantages an individual with that characteristic, it will amount to indirect discrimination unless it can be objectively justified.
Objective justification is defined as a showing that the measure is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. A legitimate aim is the reason behind the discrimination. This reason must not be discriminatory in itself and it must be a genuine or real reason. Proportionate means the aim or the reason behind the discrimination must be fairly balanced against the disadvantage suffered. It must be appropriate and necessary. If there are better and less discriminatory ways of doing things, it will be more difficult to justify discrimination.
Harassment is unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic that has the purpose or effect of either:
In addition harassment also occurs when the unwanted conduct is specifically of a sexual nature or there is less favourable treatment because someone has rejected or submitted to unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or related to gender reassignment or sex.
Victimisation provisions protect people who do (or might do) protected acts such as bringing discrimination claims, complaining about harassment, or becoming involved in another employee’s discrimination complaint. Specifically victimisation occurs when someone is subjected to a detriment because either:
A protected act is one (or more) of
Our discrimination law solicitors can help with all forms of discrimination at work, including if you are treated less favourably because you have a part-time or fixed-term contract. If negotiations fail to resolve the situation, we can also represent you at an Employment Tribunal.
Use the menu on the left of the screen to find out more about the different forms of discrimination, or click below: