Know your rights if you suffer discrimination at work

Our latest advice column from the South West London Law Centre looks at your rights in the workplace if you feel that you are suffering discrimination

Under legislation called the Equality Act 2010, employees, workers and prospective employees and workers are protected from experiencing discriminatory behaviour from an employer, colleague or anyone acting on behalf of an employer if they have what is known as a “protected characteristic”.

What are the protected characteristics?

In the Equality Act there are nine protected characteristics – this means any discrimination relating to those nine things will be considered unlawful.
They are:

  • Age
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation and
  • Disability

The definition of disability under the Act actually includes anyone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a “substantial” and “long-term” negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities. “Substantial” means more than minor or trivial, and “long-term” means 12 months or more.

For example, if you suffer from severe depression, and have done so for more than 12 months and this has had a substantial negative impact on your ability to do day-to-day activities, although your depression isn’t a visible disability, it could be categorised as a disability.

How are these characteristics ‘protected’?

You have the right not to be treated less or unfavourably due to a protected characteristic.

If, for example, someone told you that the reason you were not being offered a job was because you were too old to fit in with the young workforce, this could be considered age discrimination under the Equality Act.

Do I need to possess the protected characteristic myself in order to be discriminated against?

You can be discriminated against if you don’t possess one of the nine protected characteristics but you are associated with someone who does.

For example, if a company decided not to hire a parent who has a disabled child because they believe the candidate would need to take too much time off work to care for their child, this would be disability discrimination by association.

Another form of discrimination is where someone believes you have a protected characteristic, even though you don’t, and treats you less favourably because of that belief.

Imagine you are heterosexual and you went for a promotion at work, but your employer believes that you are gay and denies you the promotion on that basis. This could be considered sexual orientation discrimination, which is unlawful.

Can I be indirectly discriminated against?

The examples given so far are all examples of direct discrimination. Another type of discrimination is indirect discrimination.

Abuse: derogatory comments towards individuals because of their race or religion can constitute discrimination at work

This describes situations where policies, practices or procedures are put in place that appear to treat everyone equally but, in practice, are less fair to those with a certain protected characteristic.

For example, a certain role requires all applicants to be a minimum height for a job where height does not impact carrying out the role. Such a requirement might be applied to all those applying for the job but it would likely discriminate against women as they are generally shorter than men.

Does harassment count as discrimination?

Harassment is another type of discrimination. It is unwanted conduct related to the protected characteristics, and which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

For example, a type of harassment in the workplace might include a Sikh employee who wears a turban and is mocked by colleagues who use derogatory terms. This could be considered both racial and religious harassment.

Are there any other types of discrimination?

The final type of discrimination is victimisation. This is where the Equality Act protects you from experiencing any adverse consequences of bringing a complaint of discrimination under the Equality Act. So, if you make a complaint or grievance at work because you believe you have been discriminated against by your employer or a colleague, then following on from that you are treated less favourably, for example by not being offered the same training opportunities as others, this would be considered victimisation, which is unlawful.

Where can I get help and advice about discrimination?

If you think you are being discriminated against, it is worth speaking with a legal representative who will help you understand your legal rights and how to bring a claim.

It’s important to remember that if you want to bring a claim against an employer or a colleague for discrimination, you have three months to file your claim from the date of the discriminatory act – so time really is of the essence.

Previous SWLLC advice articles:

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1 Response to Know your rights if you suffer discrimination at work

  1. Ian Kierans says:

    Some very good points and explanations. Would it be possible for SWLLC to do an article on residents rights when a public body may discriminate aganst them?
    Perhaps some points what Councils should/should not take into account when making planning decisions or cuts to particular statutory services.Especially when they impact severely on those with disability/heath issues/age infirmities.

    It would also be useful to have ten look at the application of the Huamn rights act to Public body decisions.

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