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January 17th, 2010


Scope of the law prohibiting discrimination

As set out in the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against employees because of one or more of the following “protected characteristics”

1. Race
2. Sex

3. Marriage and Civil Partnerhsip

4. Gender Reassignment (Transgender)

5. Disability
6. Age
7. Religion or Belief
8. Sexual orientation

9. Pregnancy & maternity

The scope of unlawful discrimination against job applicants and employees includes prohibition of discrimination in offering employment, in the terms of employment, refusing employment, in the way the employer provides access to promotion, transfer, training or receiving any other benefit, subjecting a person to a detriment or dismissing them.

Discrimination is not only unlawful on the basis of an employee’s own “protected characteristic,” but also if it is because of the employee’s association with someone with a protected characteristic or the employer’s perception that the employee has a protected characteristic.

The scope of anti discrimination legislation covers not only employees and workers but much wider areas including contractors and those providing services.

Types of discrimination

It is unlawful to directly discriminate against a person by treating them less favourably because of a protected characteristic.

It is also unlawful to indirectly discriminate against a person by imposing a provision, criterion or practice which puts persons of a particular group at a disadvantage compared to others.  An example of this might be requiring a vacancy only to be filled by a full time worker, if it can be shown that this puts women at a disadvantage, because, for example, women with young children are less likely to be able to comply with it than men.

Disability discrimination also incorporates the concept of a “reasonable adjustment” which requires employers to consider adjustments to remove disadvantages to a disabled worker’s working conditions.

In some circumstances an employer may be able to justify less favourable treatment.

The law prohibiting unlawful discrimination also provides for claims of unlawful  harassment. Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading humiliating or offensive environment.

It is also unlawful to victimise someone for complaining about discrimination.

Enforcing rights

Claims of unlawful discrimination can be brought by job applicants, employees, workers, contractors, and others by issuing a claim in the Employment Tribunal. There is no qualifying period of employment, before a claim can be made, but any claim must be registered with the Tribunal within 3 months of the act of discrimination, or where there has been a series of incidents which can be characterised as a single act of discrimination, within 3 months of the latest  incident of discrimination.

Employers are liable for the discriminatory conduct of their employees even if they did not know about it at the time. Exceptionally, if an employer has done all it can do to prevent unlawful discrimination, it may be able to avoid liability.

Claims can also be brought against the individuals who caused the discrimination, employees might choose to do this because they want the individual to be liable for what they did, if there is a risk that the employer can avoid liability, or if there is a risk of the employer’s business going into liquidation.


Government advice on discrimination law

Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Equality Act 2010


Please note that the information on this page is intended to be a guideline and is therefore a summary of the law only and not a complete guide. Before taking any action based on this information you are strongly advised to take legal advice. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained on this page is up to date and accurate, no guarantee can be given to this effect.

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