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Discrimination at work – if you’re an agency worker

This advice applies to England

If you’re an agency worker and 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.

Read this page to find out about unlawful discrimination at work if you’re an agency worker.

Are you an agency worker?

You’re an agency worker if you have a contract with an employment agency and they arrange for you to do work for another employer or end user.

You’re an agency worker if all the following things apply to you:

  • there's a contract between you and an agency
  • you’re supplied to an end user by the agency
  • when you’re working on a job your work is controlled by the end user
  • you’re not self-employed.

The Equality Act calls the end user you do work for the principal and calls the agency worker a contract worker.

Who mustn’t discriminate against you if you’re an agency worker?

If you’re an agency or contract worker, both the agency and the end user you’re placed with mustn’t discriminate against you. Who you take action against will depend on who’s discriminated against you. Sometimes you may be able to take action against both.

Why are you discriminated against?

You can challenge discrimination at work which happens because of your:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.

What unfair treatment can be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act?

When you’re placed with an end user, they mustn’t discriminate against you:

  • in the terms on which they allow you to work
  • by not allowing you to do work or to continue doing work
  • in the way they offer you access to certain benefits, facilities or services in relation to the work
  • by putting you at any other disadvantage.

Example

The end user you’ve been assigned to has asked the agency to replace you because you can't work as fast as the others on the production line. This is because you only have one arm and are therefore disabled. This is unlawful disability discrimination and you can take action against the end user.

The employment agency also mustn’t discriminate against you:

  • in the way they recruit you or by refusing to take you on their books
  • in your terms and conditions and your access to their services
  • by terminating their contract with you
  • by putting you at any other disadvantage.

Example

You’ve been taken onto an agency’s books and were told there was plenty of work around. You have then informed them you’re pregnant and haven’t been given any work. The agency says there’s been a downturn in instructions but you think the real reason is because you are pregnant. If this is the case, it’s pregnancy and maternity discrimination and you can take action against the agency.

If you’re disabled - removing barriers for disabled people

Employers have a duty to take steps to remove the barriers you face because of your disability so you can do work for them in the same way, as far as this is possible, as someone who's not disabled. This may involve - for example, making adjustments to the workplace premises or change the way the employer does certain things, like allowing you to sit down on a production line or allowing you to have a larger computer screen.

This is called the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Both the agency and the end user you’re placed with have a duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act if you’re disabled. Who’s responsible depends on what adjustments you need and where you need them to be made. The employment agency, the end user and the agency worker will often have to co-operate to make sure any necessary adjustments are made.

If you’re likely to need the same adjustments with most employers you’re placed with, it’s generally the agency who has the responsibility for making the adjustment.

Example

You’re signed up with an employment agency to do secretarial work for other employers. As you’re blind you need specialist equipment. The agency provides you with an adapted laptop and a Braille keyboard which you use with all the employers you’re placed with. This is a reasonable adjustment for the agency to make.

If you’re pregnant

If you’re pregnant, both the agency and the employer you’re placed with mustn’t discriminate against you. It would be unlawful pregnancy and maternity discrimination if - for example:

  • the end user you’re placed with ends your assignment or reduces your hours because you’re pregnant
  • an agency refuses to take you on or refuses to place you with an employer because you’re pregnant.

As an agency worker you also have certain maternity rights under other employment laws. In particular, agency workers have the right to paid time off for maternity leave and the end user you’re placed with must carry out a health and safety risk assessment if you tell them you’re pregnant. If they don’t do this you could have a claim for unlawful pregnancy discrimination as well as for a breach of employment laws.

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 at

Acas

Acas works with both employers and employees to solve workplace problems.

You can phone the Acas helpline on: 0300 123 1100 and speak to an adviser about your employment problems. The helpline is open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

You can find useful information about how to sort out work-place problems on the Acas website at

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