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Are you protected against discrimination at work?

This advice applies to England

If you’re treated unfairly at work because of who you are, it may be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.

If you're a job-applicant or you do paid work for an employer, you’re likely to be someone who’s protected under the Equality Act.

Read this page to find out more about who’s protected against discrimination at work under the Equality Act.

Who’s protected against discrimination at work under the Equality Act 2010?

The Equality Act protects you against discrimination at work. This includes if you’re:

  • a job applicant
  • an employee - if you’re employed under a contract of employment
  • an agency worker - if you’re supplied by an employment agency to do work for another employer or end user
  • a casual worker
  • a zero hours worker
  • a trainee
  • an apprentice
  • working outside the UK, if you or your employer are British [Lawson v Serco Ltd , 2004]
  • in some situations, if you’re self-employed.

The Equality Act also sometimes protects you after you’ve left your job.

Contract personally to do work

You don't have to have a contract of employment to be protected against discrimination under the Equality Act. What matters is that you're employed under a contract personally to do work. If you're employed under a contract personally to do work, the Equality Act calls you an employee.

If you’re unsure about whether you’re protected against discrimination under the Equality Act, you should seek specialist advice - for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

What’s meant by a contract personally to do work?

A contract personally to do work is an agreement between you and an employer that you will personally do work in exchange for pay.

If necessary, it’s the employment tribunal which will decide whether something is a contract personally to do work. The tribunal will look at all the circumstances of your contractual relationship with the employer, including whether:

  • it’s agreed that you’ll do the work personally - for example, if you have complete freedom under the contract to send someone else to do the work for you, then you have not agreed to do the work personally
  • you’re in business on your own account and contracting with the employer to provide services, rather than your service as a worker or employee - this would be a commercial contract not a contract to personally do work.

Example

You work as a car valeter for a big car valeting company. Your contract says you’re self-employed and contains a substitution clause. But in reality you’re required to do the work yourself and the substitution clause is a ‘sham’ to disguise your real employment status. Once, the site manager sent away the friend of a colleague who had turned up to do the work for him, saying that unauthorised people were not allowed on site.

You don’t keep the money the customers hand over to you. It’s passed to the central company office and you’re paid an hourly rate. You wear the company uniform and use company supplies which are provided for you. This is likely to be a contract to personally do work and you’re covered by the Equality Act.

Example

You work as a beauty consultant in a large department store selling products for a cosmetics firm. You don’t have an employment contract with the store or the cosmetics firm, but are self-employed and have your own company. The store takes profits from your sales and manages the beauty department where you work. But you have the freedom to change your shifts or to get someone else to fill in for you if you can’t work. If you don’t work you don’t get paid.

In this situation, you don’t have a contract to personally to do work and so are not protected under the Equality Act.

If you’re a volunteer

Volunteers are not generally employees within the meaning of the Equality Act and so are not protected against discrimination.

Other types of work situations

The Equality Act covers discrimination at work in a wide range of other situations:

Work situationPerson or organisation responsible
Police officers or cadets

Chief officer or Chief Constable of the police force

The police authority

A partner The partnership
Member of a Limited Liability Partnership The Limited Liability Partnership
Pupillage or Tenancy of Barristers and Advocates Barristers or Advocates
Office holders - for example, members of the clergy or company directors Person with power of appointment to office
Members of trade unions or employers organisations The trade union or employers organisation
Local authority members The local authority

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website.

Acas

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides free and impartial information and advice on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

To talk to an adviser about your employment problem, call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.

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