Mon 24 Apr 2023

Am I being discriminated against at work?

The law says that in order to be discriminated against at work you must have been unfairly treated by reason of your:- Age; Disability; Gender reassignment; Marriage or civil partnership; Pregnancy or maternity; Race; Sex (including gender identity); or Sexual orientation

These are known as "protected characteristics".  In some cases, you may be discriminated against because you are perceived to have a protected characteristic even if you don't, or because you are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic.

Types of discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 protects individuals from various different types of discrimination and other unlawful conduct that apply to most (and in some cases all) of the protected characteristics.  The main types are set out below.

Direct discrimination

This is where you are treated less favourably than others because of one of the protected characteristics.  An example of this would be where someone is not offered a job because they are woman, and it is offered to a less well qualified man instead.

Indirect discrimination

This occurs when the application of a policy to everyone disadvantages people who share a protected characteristic in comparison to those without that protected characteristic.  Indirect discrimination may be justified if the application of the policy is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.  An example of indirect discrimination may be the application of a requirement to work on Saturdays.  This requirement could disadvantage a Jewish employee whose religious beliefs prevented them from working on a Saturday. 


The law also prohibits an employer harassing an employee or prospective employee on the grounds of a protected characteristic. Similar protection exists for individuals in respect of being victimised because they have enforced or attempted to enforce their rights under the Equality Act or have assisted another person in doing so. 

Failure to make reasonable adjustments/discrimination arising from disability

Both these types of discrimination apply to disabled employees only.  A claim for a failure to make reasonable adjustments arises where an employer has failed to take reasonable steps to ensure a disabled employee is not placed at a substantial disadvantage when compared to a non-disabled employee either by acts, decisions or policies made by or applied by the employer, or the physical features of the workplace. 

Discrimination arising from disability is where a disabled person is treated unfairly because of something arising from the disability rather than the disability itself.  That might happen when a disabled person is dismissed because of their absence levels.

Time limits

Claims for discrimination must usually be made within three months less one day of the date the act of discrimination took place. Where there has been continuing discrimination or a number of acts of discrimination, the three month time limit will generally run from the date that the last of the acts of discrimination took place provided that the acts of discrimination are connected. Before making an application to the employment tribunal you must contact ACAS who will offer you the chance to use Early Conciliation.  There is an automatic extension of time to the time limit for making the tribunal application while early conciliation takes place.  The tribunal may extend time for making the application further but only in limited circumstances. 


If a claim for discrimination is successful the tribunal may award compensation.  There is no maximum limit on any award, but it will be calculated by reference to the financial losses incurred as a result of the discrimination. Compensation may also be awarded for "injury to feelings" - this relates to the hurt or distress you have suffered because of the discrimination.  Injury to feelings awards are made by reference to the severity of the upset and guidelines - known as "Vento bands "- set down by an earlier Appeal Court judgment.

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