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Discrimination at work – an introduction

Discrimination at work occurs if you are treated unfairly in the course of your employment because of a protected characteristic, such as your age, race, sex or disability (among others). You are also protected from being sexually harassed at work and are subject to strict protections if you are pregnant or on maternity leave. You can find out in our guides what your rights are and what you can do if you believe that you have been discriminated against by your employer or your colleagues.

A short introduction to discrimination law

Discrimination in the workplace occurs if a worker is treated detrimentally because of a ‘protected characteristic’ that the worker (or a third party) possesses. In this guide we briefly explore the concepts of:

  1. What a protected characteristic is;
  2. What types of discrimination can occur in the workplace; and
  3. Who can pursue a claim for discrimination in the workplace

Protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010

There are nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010:

  1. Sex: read our guide to sex discrimination in the workplace
  2. Age: read our guide to age discrimination in the workplace
  3. Race: read our guide to race discrimination in the workplace
  4. Disability: read our guide to discrimination because of your (or someone else’s) disability
  5. Sexual orientation: read our guide to sexual orientation discrimination
  6. Gender orientation: discrimination because of your (or someone else’s) gender orientation
  7. Pregnancy and maternity: read our guide to discrimination because of your (or someone else’s) pregnancy or period of maternity leave
  8. Marriage or civil partnership: discrimination because you (or someone else) is married or in a civil partnership
  9. Religious or philosophical belief: read our guide to discrimination because of religious or philosophical belief

Types of discrimination

There are various types of discrimination that can occur in the workplace – these are as follows:

Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination in the workplace occurs when you are treated less favourably than a third party because of a protected characteristic

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination in the workplace occurs if your employer applies a provision, criteria or practice which is discriminatory

Discrimination arising from disability

Discrimination arising from disability occurs when you are treated unfavourably by your employer because of a disability that you have

Failure to make reasonable adjustments

This form of discrimination occurs if your employer fails to comply with their duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for your disability


Harassment in the workplace occurs where you are subjected to unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity or causing an offensive workplace environment for you. Sexual harassment occurs if you are subjected to unwanted sexual conduct which has a similar purpose or effect.

Read more about harassment in the workplace


Victimisation in the workplace occurs when you are subjected to a detriment or dismissed because you have undertake a ‘protected act’

Read more about victimisation in the workplace

Gender reassignment (absence from work)

This form of discrimination occurs if you are absent from work due to gender reassignment and you are treated less favourably than you would have been treated if your absence was for sickness or injury, or because you absence was for some other reason

Who can sue for discrimination in the workplace?

Job applicants, employees, workers, contractors, police officers and partners (among others) are protected from being discriminated against in the workplace because of a protected characteristic that they (or a third party) possess.

Call Redmans today to discuss your employment law matter

Call Redmans on 020 3397 3603 or email us at enquiries@redmans.co.uk to discuss your employment law matter.

Alternatively, you can call Chris Hadrill, the partner responsible for the employment department, on 020 3397 3601 or email him at chadrill@redmans.co.uk.

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