Discrimination based upon a person’s gender, race, age, disability or sexual orientation is illegal.


The Equality Act 2010 makes it against the law to discriminate against anyone because of their:

  • age;
  • being or becoming a transsexual person;
  • being married or in a civil partnership;
  • being pregnant or having a child;
  • disability;
  • race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin;
  • religion, belief or lack of religion/belief;
  • sex;
  • sexual orientation.

These are known as ‘protected characteristics’.

Protection from discrimination is provided:

  • at work;
  • in education;
  • as a consumer;
  • when using public services;
  • buying or renting property;
  • as a member or guest of a private club or association.

Discrimination based upon a person’s sex, race, disability or sexual orientation is therefore illegal. There is no need to have been employed for 12 months in order to bring a claim, but the complaint must be brought within 3 months of the act complained of.

If you feel you are being discriminated against, let your employer know. Being treated unfairly does not necessarily mean that you have been discriminated against.

Employers should investigate discrimination complaints promptly.

Sex discrimination

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 makes it unlawful to discriminate against women or men of any age, on the grounds of their sex. It is therefore discrimination to treat a woman (or man) in any way less favourably than a man (or woman) on the ground of their gender. This constitutes direct discrimination. It is also discrimination for a person to apply to a woman (or man) a requirement or condition of employment which is such that considerably fewer women (or men) can comply with it. It must be shown that there is no justification for the requirement or condition and it must be to a woman’s (or man’s) detriment because she or he cannot comply with it. This amounts to indirect discrimination.

Racial discrimination

Under the Race Relations Act 1976, applicants for employment must not be discriminated against on the basis of their race:

  • In the arrangements for determining who should be offered employment, which can include advertisements, selection criteria, short listing and interviews;
  • On the terms on which employment is offered; and
  • By refusing or deliberately omitting to offer employment.

Employees are protected under the Act against:

  • Discrimination in access to or opportunities for promotion, transfer or training or any other benefits, facilities or services;
  • Dismissal;
  • Being subjected to any other detriment on racially discriminatory grounds, including harassment and discrimination on the ground of appearance.

The Act applies only to employment at an establishment in the UK. It does not apply to employment for the purposes of a private household, unless the discrimination is victimization.

The protection given to employees does not apply to benefits, facilities or services provided to the public or a section of the public, unless there is a material difference in the provision to the public and to employees, or the provision is regulated by the employee’s contract of employment; or the provision relates to training.

Exceptions include genuine occupational qualification (as defined in the Act), training in skills for use outside Great Britain and seamen recruited abroad. Other exceptions include training and encouragement, sports and competitions, statutory authority and national security.

There are three remedies available to an individual who establishes that he has been the subject of racial discrimination:

  • An order declaring the rights of the complainant and the respondent in relation to the act of discrimination of which the complaint relates.
  • An award of compensation equivalent to the damages that would have been awarded in tort or in reparation for breach of statutory duty, which may include sums for injury to feelings, aggravated damages and interest.
  • A recommendation that the respondent should take within a specified period action that the tribunal considers practicable for the purpose of removing or reducing the adverse effect on the complainant of the act of discrimination.

Disability discrimination

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (section. 4) it is unlawful to discriminate against a person who is disabled. An employer discriminates when a person with a disability receives less favourable treatment:

  • in recruitment; or
  • in employment; and

which cannot be justified.

The definition of disability in the legislation focuses on the ability of individuals to perform certain physical and mental functions because of their impairments. The Act prohibits discrimination in recruitment and during the employment. An employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the nature of the work and the working environment to accommodate an employee with a disability.

Unlike the position with race and sex discrimination, the Act permits justifiable adverse treatment of a person with a disability. Certain occupations and employers are excluded from the ambit of the legislation. A person who complains of discrimination on the grounds of disability in employment can bring the matter before an employment tribunal.

Age discrimination

It is unlawful to discriminate, harass or victimise job applicants, employees or trainees on the grounds of age (young or old).

Direct discrimination occurs where the employer treats a job applicant / employee / trainee less favourably than he treats or would treat other persons, unless he can objectively justify that treatment. It includes discrimination based on apparent age, whether or not that is in fact the correct age.

Indirect discrimination is where the employer applies a provision, criterion or practice which puts persons of a particular age group at a particular disadvantage, and they suffer disadvantage as a result. Discrimination by way of victimisation occurs if the employer treats a job applicant or employee less favourably because of something they have done under or in connection with the regulations (e.g. supporting a fellow worker who has brought a claim for age discrimination).

If an employer gives instructions to an employee to discriminate against another employee and those instructions are not carried out, and that employee is then subjected to less favourable treatment, this will still constitute discrimination on the grounds of age. Harassment occurs if the employee’s conduct has the purpose or effect of violating the job applicant or employee’s dignity or creating an offensive environment for him. It is permissible to treat job applicants differently on the grounds of age if the job requires a characteristic related to age and this is a genuine occupational requirement. This exception also applies when promoting, transferring or training persons for a post.

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