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discrimination at work
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Unlawful discrimination at work

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone in the workplace on the grounds of the following ‘protected characteristics’: 

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

Discrimination at work can mean you’re treated less favourably than your colleagues and can take many forms, including: dismissing someone because of their protected characteristic; victimisation; harassment or, where someone is disabled, a failure by the employer to make reasonable adjustments. 

You don’t have to have a certain protected characteristic in order to have protection from discrimination.  For instance: 

- an employee who is wrongly perceived to have a protected characteristic (other than marriage or civil partnership) will be protected against any less favourable treatment they receive for that reason. For example, a heterosexual employee might have a sexual orientation discrimination claim if they are the subject of homophobic abuse because colleagues mistakenly believe that they are gay; and

- by having an association with someone who has a protected characteristic.  For example, a non-disabled employee could bring a discrimination claim if they are treated less favourably because they have a disabled child.

The protections afforded in the Equality Act apply to employees, workers, job applicants and ex-employees; so you don’t actually have to be working for the business to be covered. 

An employer can be liable for discrimination, harassment or victimisation committed by one if its employees, regardless of whether the employee's acts were done with the employer's knowledge or approval. 

You have 3 months less one day from the date of any act of discrimination or, if there is a course of ongoing discrimination, the last date in that series of events, in which to issue a claim in the Employment Tribunal.  Prior to issuing a claim you need to contact the conciliation service ACAS to commence Early Conciliation (EC). If EC is unsuccessful you will be given a Certificate Number, which you will need to put on the ET claim form you submit to the Tribunal.  The actual deadline to commence a claim in the Tribunal will depend on when you start EC and the date the certificate is issued.

Which? Legal can help

Discuss your situation with one of our friendly specialist employment solicitors who are experienced in advising and helping members who have suffered discriminatory behaviour at work.

Common questions we can answer include:

  • What are the different types of discrimination?
  • What if my employer sacks me for making a complaint of discrimination?
  • Can I be made redundant while on maternity leave?
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  • I believe I was not shortlisted for a vacancy because I told the potential employer that I was disabled. What can I do?
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Meet your experts
Brendan Donohue Brendan joined Which? Legal in 2018 and is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association. Brendan has over 15 years of experience advising on all aspects of employment law. See profile
Duncan Snook Duncan joined Which? Legal as an employment law specialist in May 2018. He has over 10 years of experience as an employment solicitor in private practice. See profile