What is Discrimination?

It can be extremely distressing if you believe you have been discriminated against at work. It is important to know that there are strong equality laws to protect employees from discrimination related to a protected characteristic.

It is sometimes hard to know when ‘discrimination’ in the ordinary sense (differentiating between people because of different qualities or attributes) becomes ‘discrimination’ in the legal sense (which is when you treat someone differently because of a protected characteristic).

The law makes it clear that if you are treated differently because of one of the nine protected characteristics, it may well be unlawful. If this is the case, you may have the right to bring a claim against your employer. However, the law around this is complex. If you want to understand whether you have grounds for a claim, do reach out to our team.

What are the protected characteristics?

The protected characteristics are:

  • Age – both your actual age and age range (such as being ‘under 25’).
  • Race – your colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins.
  • Sex – whether you are a man or a woman.
  • Sexual Orientation – towards individuals of the same sex, opposite sex, or either sex.
  • Gender Reassignment – including when you are proposing to undergo, undergoing or have undergone a psychological or physical process to transition.
  • Pregnancy & Maternity – including during pregnancy and maternity leave and covering related illnesses.
  • Marital Status – including whether you are married or are in a civil partnership.
  • Religion & Belief – including any religious or philosophical belief or lack of belief.
  • Disability – including any mental or physical impairment which has a substantial long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Types of Discrimination in the Workplace

The main types of workplace discrimination you may encounter in the workplace are:

  • Direct Discrimination – You are treated differently directly because of a protected characteristic (such as your sex).
  • Indirect Discrimination – Your employer has a policy or practice which disproportionately affects you and your colleagues who have a certain protected characteristic.
  • Harassment – Your employer or a colleague subjects you to unwanted conduct relating to a protected characteristic which creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating environment.
  • Victimisation – You are subjected to a detriment because you did a protected act (which includes raising anything in relation to the Equality Act).
  • Discrimination Arising from a Disability – You are treated unfavourably because of something which arises because of your disability (such as being disciplined for a disability-related absence).
  • Failing to make Reasonable Adjustments – You have a disability, and your employer fails to make reasonable adjustments to avoid you being put at a disadvantage.

Why Use Trethowans?

Our employment solicitors are skilled in all aspects of workplace discrimination law. Whether you need help with raising a grievance, navigating the grievance process, negotiating a settlement or taking your employer to the Employment Tribunal, our team can help. Our Head of Employment regularly provides training to both employees and employers on a range of key topics including menopause, neurodiversity, equality, diversity and inclusion and bullying and harassment.

We understand that raising a complaint or formal grievance to your employer can be daunting. Many employees fear that they will be punished or even dismissed if they do so. Employees are protected in law from adverse repercussions and our team will support you as you go through the process. Our discrimination solicitors understand that everyone’s desired outcomes are different and our employment lawyers will do their best to get you there.

Our employment solicitors can:

  • Support you in making a complaint of discrimination.
  • Help you make a claim for discrimination or constructive dismissal.
  • Advise on your rights to make a flexible working request.
  • Advise on whether your employer has made sufficient reasonable adjustments if you have a disability.
  • Negotiate an amicable exit package with your employer.
  • Defend yourself in an internal disciplinary procedure or Tribunal claim where you have been accused of discrimination or harassment.

We are a leading Firm recognised in the Legal 500 2023 and Chambers and Partners 2023. The Employment Team is also ranked for Employment Law in the South. We pride ourselves on upholding our reputation for being down-to-earth dedicated lawyers who will take the time to understand you and your needs.

For expert advice on your rights if you have been discriminated against or accused of discrimination in the workplace, don’t hesitate to contact our team of experienced employment solicitors on 0800 2800 421.

Discrimination Law FAQs

What is age discrimination?

Age discrimination can occur when you or your employer treats you differently because of your age. This could happen because your employer makes incorrect assumptions about your abilities or future plans because of your age. For example, making a comment that a colleague’s forgetfulness must be due to their age, or deciding to discount a job applicant because the employer thinks under 25-year-olds are immature and lazy could be age discrimination.

Is menopause a protected characteristic?

Menopause itself is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. However, you may be discriminated against for a menopause-related reason.

You could have a disability if the effects of your menopause are long-lasting and have a substantially detrimental impact on your day-to-day activities. If so, your employer may be discriminating against you if, for example, they fail to make reasonable adjustments for you at work to help manage menopausal symptoms.

In addition, you may be discriminated against based on age or sex (or indeed other protected characteristics) in relation to menopause. For example, it could be discrimination if your employer passes you over for promotion because you are a woman of menopausal age.

What is disability discrimination?

The Equality Act protects those with all types of disability including mental health issues, neurodiversity and even menopause if the symptoms are sufficiently long-lasting and significantly impact your ability to carry out normal day to day activities.

If you have a disability your employer has additional duties to make reasonable adjustments (such as flexible working or providing an auxiliary aid) to ensure you are not put at a disadvantage. Whether an adjustment is ‘reasonable’ depends on a lot of factors including its cost and practicality. Your employer must also know about your disability for the duty to arise.

What is race discrimination?

Race discrimination covers your colour and ethnic origins as well as your actual race. Therefore, race discrimination could arise if a colleague jokes about your origins even if they are incorrect. For example, a colleague refusing to acknowledge that you are British despite being born in the UK or having citizenship could be harassment. Equally, scoring an individual with a heavy accent lower in a test because of difficulty comprehending them could constitute unlawful discrimination.

What is religious discrimination?

Religious discrimination can cover both direct discrimination for having a belief, and associated impacts. For example, it could be discrimination if your religion requires you not to work on Saturdays and your employer refuses to change the rota. Equally, serious non-religious beliefs can be protected including a lack of belief. Sometimes, contradicting beliefs can both be protected– for example recent cases have shown that gender-critical beliefs (believing there are only two genders) is equally as capable of being protected as the belief that there are more than two genders.

What are examples of pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work?

During the ‘protected period’, you should not be treated unfavourably by your employer because you are pregnant or on maternity leave. The protected period starts when you notify your employer of your pregnancy and ceases when ordinary or additional maternity leave ends.

Examples of unfavourable treatment include not being informed or considered for promotions, not being given a suitable vacancy in a redundancy process, having your pregnancy-related illness or absence considered in performance reviews, having a job offer or interview withdrawn, missing out on a pay rise, or being refused time off for antenatal appointments.

What is victimisation at work?

Victimisation occurs if you are subjected to a detriment or disadvantage because you have done a ‘protected act’.  When, for example, you raise a claim of discrimination about yourself or support someone else’s grievance related to discrimination, this could be a protected act. A ‘detriment’ could be an act, omission, or statement. For example, a decision by your employer not to give you a promotion, to reduce your bonus or to mark you poorly on your performance review. If you believe you have been treated poorly because of a protected act, reach out to our employment solicitors who can help.

What is gender reassignment discrimination?

Those who are proposing to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone a process of reassignment by changing physiological or other attributes relating to their sex, are protected from discrimination. Examples of discrimination include a demotion to a non-client facing role because someone is transgender, deadnaming (calling a person by the name they used before their transition) and unfair treatment because a trans-person has had time off because of their transition. The protection may also extend to those who are intersex or non-binary, however this will be fact-specific and so we suggest you take legal advice.

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