Discrimination at Work

Prompt and sympathetic

If you feel that you are suffering from discrimination at work because of what is known as a 'protected characteristic' of:

  • age
  • disability
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • maternity and pregnancy
  • race
  • religion and belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

then we can help during this difficult and stressful time.

It is worth noting that discrimination is not simply defined as treating someone unfairly because of one of these characteristics - there are other behaviours in the workplace that can constitute discrimination too.

Compensation for discrimination can include a basic award, loss of earnings and an injury to feelings payment. You can find some examples of injury to feelings payments here.

Types of discrimination

The law (the Equality Act 2010)  protects workers from four different types of discrimination, namely:

  • direct discrimination
  • indirect discrimination
  • harassment
  • victimisation

Direct discrimination is probably the most commonly recognised form of discrimination, and involves unfairly treating an employee because of one of the protected characteristics detailed above. An example of direct discrimination would be an employer refusing to promote an employee because of their age.

Indirect discrimination can also occur, whereby a company’s policies or practice disadvantage those with one of the protected characteristics. For example, your employer may have a policy in place that requires all male staff to be clean shaven, which may put members of certain religions at a disadvantage.

In some cases, indirect discrimination may be justified. For example, it may be justified to reject a candidate for a carpet fitting job if they suffer with severe back pain amounting to a disability and are unable to bend, as this range of movement would be crucial to the role. In legal terms, this is known as objective justification, and it would be considered proportionate means to achieving a legitimate aim. There are other considerations though, such as reasonable adjustments.


Harassment and victimisation can never be justified. Harassment occurs when an employee is subject to unwanted behaviour relating to one of the protected characteristics, creating a hostile environment or causing them to feel humiliated or intimidated. This could be anything from making inappropriate jokes to giving unwanted nicknames.

Finally, victimisation can occur if an employee has made a complaint about discrimination or harassment and is then treated badly as a result. For example if the employee is being ignored by co-workers or is refused a good reference after making a complaint, this could constitute victimisation and could be grounds for legal action.

Employment solicitors

If you would like further information, please contact Mel McCrum or Stacey Edgley. They are all members of the Employment Lawyers Association.

Also take a look at our guide to discrimination at work.