Discrimination in the workplace


The most fertile area in which employment law will grow over the course of the next few years.

The legislation – the Equality Act 2010 – is unlikely to change, yet five years on its scope and the issues it generates continue to develop with little sign of fatigue.

Yet, NEWS FLASH, the number of discrimination claims going through the employment tribunal is falling. One explanation for this must be that employers are becoming better at recognising and addressing discrimination. Certainly, the ideal of a discrimination-free workplace is an aspiration which employers and employees can share. So what are the basics which you need to know?

There are nine protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. This means that it is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Direct discrimination occurs where a person treats another less favourably because of a (not necessarily their) protected characteristic. Other than if the protected characteristic is age, direct discrimination cannot be justified.

Indirect discrimination occurs where a person applies to another a provision, criterion or practice (“a PCP”) which they apply generally and which puts persons with the other’s protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage compared to persons who do not share that protected characteristic. The other person must be put at that disadvantage, however, indirect discrimination can in some cases be justified. Pregnancy and maternity is exempt from indirect discrimination.

Disability discrimination has its own additional prohibited conduct – discrimination arising from disability and the duty to make reasonable adjustment.

Harassment – unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic – and victimisation – subjecting someone to a detriment for asserting discrimination rights – also constitute prohibited conduct under the Equality Act 2010.

In explaining its wide application it is worth remembering that discrimination rights under the Equality Act 2010 apply to the wider category of “workers” in addition to classical “employees” who are employed under a contract of employment.

Were you aware that political or scientific beliefs could be protected under our discrimination laws?

What about workplace banter? Could this be harassment? Even if it occurs outside of work via social media?

As a firm we offer guidance on the implications of the equality legislation, and represent clients in high-value and complex multi-strand discrimination claims in employment tribunals across the country.

We also offer training and guidance to businesses to ensure they are taking steps to prevent discrimination occurring, and advise clients on equality and discrimination issues that arise in the workplace.

If you believe that your business or employment has been, or may be, affected by equality or discrimination issues, please do not hesitate to contact our team for swift, comprehensive advice.