discrimination law 300x136 Discrimination Law: Ensuring Equality In The WorkplaceDiscrimination law was consolidated by the Equality Act 2010. In principle the law is designed to ensure equality of opportunity at work, to protect employees’ dignity and to ensure that complaints can be raised without fear of reprisal. In practice it can be very complex for both employers and employees to understand the rights and obligations that this law creates.

Uncapped Compensation Payments and Wide Impact

Unlike most other area of employment law where there are caps on how much compensation you can claim, there is no limit to the amount of compensation that can be awarded to a successful claimant in a discrimination claim.

Discrimination law applies to all aspects of employment. This includes; job adverts, contracts of employment, disciplinary and dismissal procedures and can also apply to giving references.  Employers are often held responsible for the discriminatory actions of their employees. The law protects employees as well as agency workers, freelance workers, consultants, partners and directors.

What Types of Discrimination are there?

The law provides protection from discrimination if that discrimination relates to “protected characteristics”. The current protected characteristics are:-

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Being married or in a civil partnership
  • Gender reassignment
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • Religion or belief

Discrimination can take four forms: –

Direct Discrimination

Where an employer treats an employee less favourably than it treats, or would treat, another person in the same or similar circumstances because of one of the protected characteristics. For example an employer refuses to employ Muslim men.

Indirect Discrimination

Where an employer indirectly applies a policy or practice that puts those of the employee’s protected group at a particular disadvantage compared to other groups which cannot be objectively justified. For example an employer refuses to allow any employees to work part time which puts women at a particular disadvantage.

Employees who are disabled are also protected against unfavourable treatment arising in consequence of the disability, and also have the right to have reasonable adjustments for their disability made by the employer.


Harassment is “unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an offensive, intimidating or hostile environment”. If that conduct is related to any of the protected characteristics (except marital/civil partnership status and pregnancy/maternity) then it will be discriminatory. For example making racist jokes in the workplace or sexually harassing another employee.


Victimisation is treating a person less favourably because they have complained (or intend to complain) about discrimination, or because they have given evidence in relation to another person’s complaint of discrimination. Employers must not discipline or dismiss employees who do so. Employers also need to ensure that employees who complain do not suffer reprisals from colleagues.

Practical steps for Employers

  • Provide staff with employment handbooks, including policies on equal opportunities and harassment. This should set out what is and is not acceptable behaviour.
  • Consider training on equal opportunities and harassment for staff and managers. .
  • Set up clear procedures for staff to raise concerns and complaints.
  • Ensure discriminatory behaviour by staff is not tolerated and is dealt with through proper disciplinary measures.
  • Review employment contracts and policies to ensure they comply with the current law.
  • Wherever possible try to accommodate the different cultures and religious beliefs of employees.
  • Try to accommodate requests for flexible working arrangements, unless refusal is justified.