Discrimination: Your Rights
Types of discrimination (protected characteristics)
It is against the law to discriminate against anyone either at work or in the provision of services because of:
- being married or pregnant
- race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
- religion, belief or lack of religion/belief
- sexual orientation
These are the basic so-called ‘protected characteristics’. You are legally protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010.
You are also protected from discrimination if:
- you’re associated with someone who has a protected characteristic, e.g. a family member or friend
- you’ve complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim
How you can be discriminated against
Discrimination can come in one of the following forms:
- direct discrimination – treating someone with a protected characteristic less favourably than others
- indirect discrimination – putting rules or arrangements in place that apply to everyone, but that put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage
- harassment – unwanted behaviour linked to a protected characteristic that violates someone’s dignity or creates an offensive environment for them
- victimisation – treating someone unfairly because they’ve complained about discrimination or harassment
- It can be lawful to have specific rules or arrangements in place, as long as they can be justified.
If you’re disabled you have the same rights as other workers. Employers should also make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help disabled employees and job-applicants with things such as application forms, interview arrangements e.g. wheelchair access, communication support, terms of employment and aptitude tests.
Indirect discrimination can be notoriously difficult to prove without legal assistance. Unless the evidence is clear and incontrovertible, it will be necessary to establish a suitable ‘comparator’ who was treated differently from you.
So, for instance, in a sex discrimination claim, a female claimant may need to show that male employees who were otherwise in a similar position in terms of their employment, were treated preferentially.
The employee will need to get over the initial evidential hurdle to establish facts which suggest discrimination (the initial burden of proof). The burden will then shift to the employer to explain the apparent difference in treatment. This is where the employer will also need an effective lawyer.
The attraction of bringing a discrimination claim successfully is that there is also no artificial ‘cap’ on the level of compensation payment, as there is with pure unfair dismissal claims. You can therefore recover all of your losses which are reasonably linked to the discrimination. That is yet another reason why employers need to beware of discrimination claims and seek specialist professional representation.