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Discrimination at work - why are you treated unfairly?

This advice applies to England

If you’ve been treated unfairly at work and it’s because of who you are, you may have been discriminated against.

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out if you're being discriminated against because you have a characteristic which is protected under the Equality Act.

Top tips

If you want to know if unlawful discrimination has taken place you need to check:

  • why you're being treated unfairly
  • who's treating you unfairly
  • what's the unfair treatment
  • how is the treatment unfair, or what type of discrimination it is.

Why are you treated unfairly?

If you’re treated unfairly, it’s only unlawful discrimination if you’re treated unfairly because of certain reasons. These reasons are called protected characteristics.

The protected characteristics in the Equality Act are:

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

If you think you’ve been discriminated against you need to check if the unfair treatment is because of one of these reasons.

Example

You’re a Christian and you’ve asked your employer for three weeks off to go on a religious retreat. Your employer refuses and says he’s running a business not an opportunity for you to indulge your spiritual beliefs. You know that other people have been granted at least three weeks’ annual leave to go on long haul holidays. This is less favourable treatment of you because of your religious beliefs and is unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act.

Unfair treatment because of who someone thinks you are

It’s unlawful discrimination if someone treats you unfairly because they think you have a protected characteristic, even if you don’t.

This is called discriminationby perception.

Example

An employer rejects your job application because he thinks you're an Irish Traveller. This is direct race discrimination based on the employer’s perception. It doesn’t matter whether you’re actually an Irish traveller or not. You can still take action under the Equality Act.

Unfair treatment because of someone you’re with or someone you know

It’s also unlawful discrimination if someone treats you unfairly because someone you’re associated with or someone you know has a protected characteristic. This could be a parent, child, partner or friend.

This is called discriminationby association.

Example

You’ve been denied a promotion because you have a disabled child. People with non-disabled children are promoted regularly but your employer thinks the fact that your child is disabled will mean you are not going to commit to the new role. This is direct discrimination because of your child’s disability.

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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