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Step 1: check why you're being treated unfairly

This advice applies to England

The law says you can't be treated unfairly or differently if it’s connected to who you are, like being a woman or being disabled. This is called having a ‘protected characteristic’ in the Equality Act 2010.

You also can’t be treated unfairly because:

  • you challenged discrimination before
  • of someone else's protected characteristic
  • someone thinks you have a protected characteristic, but you don’t

It might not be obvious how the unfair treatment is linked to a protected characteristic. For example, your employer might only hire managers who can work evenings and weekends. This could be discrimination against women because they’re more likely to have childcare commitments that stop them working evenings and weekends.

You might be treated unfairly because of more than one protected characteristic - you can take action about more than one.

The protected characteristics covered in sections 5 to 18 of the Equality Act 2010 are:

Age

The law covers you for discrimination about being:

  • young or old
  • in a particular age group - like 15-18 or under 60
  • of a specific age - like 40 year olds

Age is defined in section 5 of the Equality Act 2010. 

Disability

You’re covered for a disability you have now and any you’ve now recovered from. A disability could be physical or mental - you could be covered even if you don’t consider yourself disabled.

You should check if your disability is covered by the Equality Act 2010.

Disability is defined in section 6 of the Equality Act 2010.

Gender reassignment

The law covers 'gender reassignment' - this means if you're transgender.

You’re covered if you:

  • are planning to transition - you don’t need to have had any medical treatment
  • are in the process of transitioning
  • have already transitioned

If you identify as non-binary but you aren’t transitioning, you might be covered but the law is complicated. You’ll need to get specialist advice before you go any further.

Gender reassignment is defined in section 7 of the Equality Act 2010.

Marriage and civil partnership

The law covers you if you’re legally married or in a civil partnership. You’re still protected if you’re separated but your marriage or civil partnership has not been legally dissolved.

You’re not covered if you’re:

  • single
  • engaged to be married
  • divorced or your civil partnership has been dissolved
  • living with someone as a couple
  • widowed

Marriage and civil partnership is defined in section 8 of the Equality Act 2010.

Pregnancy and maternity

The law covers you if you’re pregnant or on maternity leave. This includes being on ordinary or additional maternity leave.

If you’re not entitled to maternity leave you’re covered for 2 weeks after you give birth, including stillbirths. The time you’re covered for is called the ‘protected period’.

You’re also covered if your employer makes a decision in your protected period that doesn’t affect you until after the period has ended. For example your employer might decide while you’re away that you can’t come back to work, but not tell you until your maternity leave has ended.   

If your maternity leave has ended, you might still be able to claim sex discrimination. You should carry on checking to see if your problem is discrimination.

Pregnancy and maternity is defined in section 18 of the Equality Act 2010.

Race

This includes your:

  • colour - for example if you’re black or white
  • nationality
  • ethnic origin - for example if you’re a Romany Gypsy
  • national origin - this could be different from your nationality, for example if your family is from India but you have a British passport

If you’re not sure what race means you can read a more detailed description in the EHRC Code of Practice on Employment, chapter 2.

Race is defined in section 9 of the Equality Act 2010.

Religion or belief

This includes:

  • belonging to an organised religion, for example if you’re Jewish
  • having a religious belief, for example you need to pray at certain times
  • having no religion, such as being an atheist
  • your philosophical beliefs, like being a pacifist

Religion or belief is defined in section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.

Sex

This is whether you’re a man or a woman.

If you identify as non-binary but you aren’t transitioning, you might be covered but the law is complicated. You’ll need to get specialist advice before you go any further.

Sex is defined in section 11 of the Equality Act 2010.

Sexual orientation

You’re covered if you’re gay, a lesbian, straight or bisexual.

Sexual orientation is defined in section 12 of the Equality Act 2010.

If your problem is about more than one protected characteristic

You can take action about more than one, or choose the ones you think you have the best evidence for.

If you take action about a combination of protected characteristics, you have to make the case for each one separately. For example, if you’re being discriminated against because you’re a black woman you’d have to list race discrimination and sex discrimination in your claim. 

If your problem isn't to do with your protected characteristic

It could still be discrimination if you’re treated unfairly because:

  • of someone else’s protected characteristic
  • someone thinks you’ve got a protected characteristic, but you don’t

If you’re treated unfairly because you complained about discrimination before

It could still be discrimination even if the unfair treatment isn’t about your protected characteristic. If you challenged or helped someone else challenge discrimination before it could be a type of discrimination called ‘victimisation’.

Next steps

If the Equality Act 2010 doesn’t cover your situation you might still be able to talk to your employer or make a formal complaint - solve your problem without using discrimination law.

You can find more information about the protected characteristics in the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) Code of Practice on Employment, chapter 2.

If you think you’re covered by the Equality Act you can move on to step 2.

Previous Step 2
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