The law protects you from discrimination at work, including in relation to: dismissal; your terms and conditions of employment; promotion; and recruitment.
Discrimination happens when an employer treats one employee less favourably than others. There are specific laws against some types of discrimination, called “unlawful discrimination”. If your employer treats you less favourably for an unlawful reason, you may be able to take action.
The Equality Act 2010 (“EqA 2010”) makes it unlawful to discriminate against you on the basis of the following “protected characteristics”:
- Religion or belief
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Sexual orientation
- Gender reassignment
Types of Discrimination
Direct discrimination occurs where an employer treats an employee less favourably than others because of one of the above protected characteristics. For example, your employer would be directly discriminating against you if it dismissed you for being a woman, or because you follow a certain religion.
Indirect discrimination occurs where your employer’s behaviour is not intended to treat anyone less favourably, but which in practice disadvantages those with a particular protected characteristic. For example, if your employer required everyone to work full time, and you are a woman with childcare responsibilities, this requirement could be indirectly discriminatory against you (because women are likely to have the greatest childcare responsibilities).
Harassment means unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you. For example, sexist banter between colleagues or the sharing of sexually explicit material could have this effect on you.
Victimisation occurs where an employee is treated less favourably than others because they made a complaint about discrimination, for example if you were prevented from going on a training course or attending social events.
Liability and Remedies
Employers can be held liable for the discriminatory acts of its staff, as well as for its own actions.
If you succeed with a discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal, there is no limit to the amount of compensation that you may be awarded (unlike there is, for example, with unfair dismissal claims).
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Discrimination is a complex area of law. Given the potentially high value of these claims, it would be sensible for you to take our advice early in the process.