Fri 11 Dec 2020


An overview of the law relating to discrimination.  

The law

The Equality Act 2010 brings together and restates the previous discrimination legislation concerning:

• sex;

• race;

• disability;

• sexual orientation;

• gender reassignment;

• marriage and civil partnership;

• pregnancy and maternity;

• religion or belief; and

• age 

These features are known as the “protected characteristics” and the law seeks to adopt a single approach where appropriate. 

It prohibits discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the basis of the protected characteristics. It is therefore unlawful to discriminate against someone based on any of these grounds and the legislation  is intended to cover all parts of the employment relationship, including recruitment, terms and conditions, promotions, transfers, dismissals and training. 

Types of discrimination

There are various types of discrimination and other unlawful conduct set out in the Equality Act 2010 that apply to most (and in some cases all) of the protected characteristics referred to above. A brief overview of the main types are given below. 

Direct discrimination

This is where discrimination occurs where “because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others”. 

Indirect discrimination

This is where acts, decisions or policies are made which, on the face of it,  do not  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 shown that the actions were a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. 

Harassment / victimisation

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. 

Associated direct discrimination and harassment

The Act extends this protection to all of the protected characteristics with the exception of marriage and civil partnership. 

Discrimination and harassment because of perceived characteristics

The definition of perceived characteristics is sufficiently broad to cover an incorrect perception. For example an employee who is not homosexual could raise a complaint alleging discrimination or harassment in circumstances where the employee is not actually homosexual but this is the perception of the perpetrator of the harassing behaviour. 

Failure to comply with duty to make adjustments

This relates to disabled employees only.  This arises where a disabled employee is placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to non disabled colleagues by acts, decisions or policies made by or applied by the employer or by the physical features of the work place. In such a case, there is a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Next steps?

You may have some questions about your situation.  Our team are on hand to help, so get in touch with one of our experts.


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