Discrimination means treating someone differently because of who they are and the qualities they possess. When this treatment is unfair and offensive, discrimination is taking place, something that workforces need to be aware of for the simple reason they are made up of different people, and these differences can cause problems.
Direct discrimination: This is when you are treated differently and worse than someone else for certain reasons. This is much more obvious to spot because someone is being targeted simply because of who they are.
Indirect discrimination: This technique is a bit subtler, but it can have the same, if not a worse effect, as direct discrimination. This can be done by a policy or rule being implemented for everyone in the workplace, but the impact can have a different effect on some people than others. The Equality Act labels this as putting someone at a particular disadvantage.
Different Types of Discrimination:
Whether they are carried out directly or indirectly, the same nine categories are listed by the Equality Act as ‘protected categories’. In other words, these are the areas that people shouldn’t be discriminated against because of. If they are, the perpetrator is breaking the law – something that could lead to penalties such as fines and reputational damage.
The act says that you must not be discriminated against if –
- You are, or aren’t, a certain age or part of a certain age group.
- Someone thinks you are, or aren’t, a specific age or in a certain age group. This is known as discrimination by perception.
- You’re connected to someone of a specific age or age group. This is known as discrimination by association.
Direct discrimination example: Your employer refuses to allow you to do a training course because they see you as ‘too old’. They allow your younger colleagues to do the training instead.
Indirect discrimination example: You’re 22 and find out you aren’t eligible to be promoted because of a policy that only allows employees with postgraduate qualifications to gain a promotion. Although this applies to everyone, it disadvantages younger people because they are less likely to have that level of qualification.
In both cases, this can be permitted if the business is able to give a good enough reason for the policy being created and the discrimination occurring. This is also known as objective justification.
The Equality Act defines ‘disability’ as a physical or a mental condition which has an impact on your ability to do normal day to day activities.
If you have a progressive condition like HIV or cancer, you are protected by the Act. You’re also covered if you’ve had a disability in the past, so if you had a mental health condition in the past which lasted for over 12 months, but you have now recovered, you are still protected from discrimination because of that disability.
The Equality Act 2010 says that you must not be discriminated against if –
- You have a disability.
- Someone thinks you have a disability; if this happens it’s known as discrimination by perception.
- You are connected to someone with a disability; this is known as discrimination by association.
Direct discrimination example: During an interview, a job applicant tells the potential employer that he has multiple sclerosis. The employer decides not to offer him the job even though he is the best candidate. This is because the business presumes he will need lots of time off.
Indirect discrimination example: A job advert is published, and states that applicants need a driving license. This limits some disabled people because they may be unable to drive. If the position is for a taxi driver then it is a justified requirement, but if it is for a teacher that needs to commute between two schools, it is much more difficult to justify.
All transsexual people share the common characteristic of gender reassignment, but to be covered by the Act in this characteristic you don’t need to have undergone any specific treatment or surgery. You can be at any stage in the transition process. Whether you’re preparing to reassign your gender, or you already have, the Act covers you.
The Equality Act says that you must not be discriminated against if –
- You are transsexual, but it must be noted that you aren’t protected as transgender unless you propose to change your gender or have done so.
- Someone thinks you are transsexual if you occasionally cross-dress. This is known as discrimination by perception.
- You are connected to a transsexual person in one way or another. This is known as discrimination by association.
Direct discrimination example: You inform your employer that you intend to spend the rest of your life as a different gender. The result of this is that your employer moves you off your current role so that you no longer have client contact.
Indirect discrimination example: A local health authority implements a policy that stops the funding of breast implants. This has a negative impact on an individual that wants to continue her reassignment towards being a woman because she wants the implants to make her look more feminine. Although the policy applies to everyone, it puts transsexuals at a disadvantage.
Marriage or Civil Partnership
The Equality Act says you can’t be discriminated against in employment because you’re married or in a civil partnership. This can be between a man and woman, or between partners of the same sex.
Direct discrimination example: A woman working night shifts in a distribution centre is dismissed when she gets married because her employer thinks a married woman should be at home in the evening.
Indirect discrimination example: This could be requiring someone to be in a certain relationship status in order to gain a certain job.
Pregnancy and Maternity
This is when you’re treated unfairly because you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or because you’ve recently given birth. If you are treated unfavourably as a result, then you are being discriminated against.
Direct discrimination example: A woman is interviewing for a position at a new company, and once the employer learns she wants to have children in the future, she is refused the job, despite being the strongest candidate. The employer views her future pregnancy wishes as a hindrance in terms of the time off she will require.
Indirect discrimination example: The employer creates a policy limiting people in the amount of maternity leave they can have. This can cause people to be put off by the role if they wish to have children. Although the policy applies to everyone, it puts women (and more so men now too) at a disadvantage, should they ever want children.
The Act defines ‘race’ as your colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins. These factors don’t always have to be the same as your current nationality. For example, you could have Chinese national origins and be living in Britain with a British passport.
You could be discriminated against because of one or more aspects of your race. For example people born in Britain with Jamaican parents could be discriminated against because they are British citizens or because of their Jamaican national origins.
Direct discrimination example: A letting agency prevents you from renting a flat because of your race.
Indirect discrimination example: A hair salon refuses to employ stylists that cover their own hair. If you were a Muslim woman or Sikh man, you might be unable to apply for the position due to wearing headwear.
Religion and Belief
This is when you are treated differently because of your religious beliefs, or lack of them. The Act says you must not be discriminated against if –
- You are, or aren’t, a member of a particular religion.
- You hold, or don’t, hold a particular philosophical belief.
- Someone thinks you are of a particular religion; this is known as discrimination by perception.
- You’re connected to someone who has a religion or belief; this is known as discrimination by association.
The Act covers any religion, from the larger organised religions like Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Buddhism, to the smaller ones like Rastafarianism or Paganism. All belief systems are relevant as long as they have a clear structure and belief system.
Direct discrimination example: A bank refuses to provide you with a loan because you’re Jewish.
Indirect discrimination example: As a Jew, you need to finish early on Fridays to observe the Sabbath. The company you work for changes the weekly team meeting from Wednesday mornings to Friday afternoons, therefore putting you between a rock and a hard place. You either miss your meeting, putting you at a professional disadvantage, or miss Sabbath, causing you to compromise your religious beliefs.
Sex can mean either male or female according to the Equality Act, and it says you must not be discriminated against if –
- You are, or aren’t, a particular sex.
- Someone thinks you are the opposite sex. This is known as discrimination by perception.
- You are connected to someone of a particular sex. This is known as discrimination by association.
Direct discrimination example: A nightclub offers free entry to women, but the men have to queue and pay for entry.
Indirect discrimination example: An employer decides to change shift patterns for staff so that they finish at 5pm instead of 3pm. Female employees with caring responsibilities could be at a disadvantage if the new shift pattern means they cannot collect their children from school or childcare.
Sexual orientation involves the expression of your sexual orientation. This could be through your appearance and the places you visit, as well as what your sexual preference is. The Act says you must not be discriminated against if –
- You are heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bisexual.
- Someone thinks you have a particular sexual orientation. This is known as discrimination by perception.
- You are connected to someone who has a particular sexual orientation. This is known as discrimination by association.
Direct discrimination example: During a job interview, a woman mentions her girlfriend. Following this the employer decides not to offer her the position, even though she was the best candidate.
Indirect discrimination example: A hotel owner creates a policy that means they refuse to provide double beds for couples that are anything other than the heterosexual pairing of husband and wife.