Recognising discrimination

Being treated worse than others because of who you are is upsetting and humiliating.  This is called discrimination.

You have a right not to be discriminated against.  The Equality Act 2010, which starts to come into force from October, introduces new rights to protect everyone against discrimination.

Discrimination may be:

Being treated worse than others because of who you are
e.g. being told you can’t do a training course because you are a woman.
You are protected if people discriminate against you because of how they see you e.g. if you are treated badly because you are seen to be gay (even if you are really straight).

Being harassed
If someone is saying or doing things because of who you are that you find offensive, humiliating, frightening, distressing or sexually inappropriate, this is a kind of discrimination called harassment.

Your employer must take reasonable steps to protect you from harassment - not only from work colleagues and your manager, but also from other people you come into contact with, such as students and contractors.

Facing unnecessary rules and ways of doing things that put you at a disadvantage
Discrimination may be more subtle than treating you worse than others, or being harassed.   If a rule is being applied to everyone, but it is harder for you, and people like you, to comply with it this could be indirect discrimination.
e.g. requiring all staff to work 3 evenings a week might be indirect discrimination on the grounds of gender, because women are more likely to be primary carers for children.  If the intention isn’t to discriminate against you, sometimes behaviour like this can be justified as a necessary means to an end.

Being punished for complaining about discrimination
If you are treated less favourably after complaining about being discriminated against, or helping someone else to complain this is called victimisation.

Not having reasonable adjustment made for you if you are disabled
An employer or service provider is required to make reasonable adjustments for you if you are at a substantial disadvantage compared with a non-disabled person.
e.g. a deaf person asks for a face-to-fact interview as an alternative to a telephone interview during recruitment.

Being treated unfairly because of something to do with your disability (NEW)
e.g. an employee with cancer is sacked, not because she got cancer, but because of all her time off work because of having cancer. Unless the employer can shown that this is a reasonable way to deal with the effect her absence has on his business, this is likely to be discrimination.

Asking health-related questions during recruitment (NEW)
From October 2010 it will be unlawful for an employer to ask you any heath-related questions until they have offered you the job (unless they are asking about any reasonable adjustments a disabled person needs at interview).

Treating you unfairly because of someone else
It is illegal to discriminate against you because of someone else’s race, disability, sexual orientation or religious belief. This is discrimination by association
e.g. if you are harassed at work because your parents are Jehovah’s witnesses; if a student is refused entry to a graduation ceremony because of fears about the behaviour of her child who is disabled.

Discrimination is …

  • Being treated worse than others because of who you are.
  • Being harassed because of who you are
  • Being subject to unnecessary rules and ways of doing things that out you and people like you at a disadvantage
  • Being punished for complaining about discrimination,
  • When someone fails to make a reasonable adjustment for your disability

What’s NOT discrimination …
It is not discrimination for your employer to look at your skills, knowledge and experience when deciding whether or not to offer you a job, send you on training, or decide your pay.  This isn’t treating you worse because of who you are. It is treating you appropriately because of what you can do for them.

It is not discrimination to expect you to work with people who hold views on religion or sexual orientation that are different from your own.  If you refused to do this you would be discriminating against them.

Anti-discrimination laws protect you from discrimination because:

  • You are a man or a woman (gender)
  • Of pregnancy or maternity
  • You are transsexual
  • Of your race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins
  • You are disabled
  • You are gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight (your sexual orientation)
  • Of your religion or belief or lack or religion
  • Of your age
  • You are in a marriage or civil partnership

If you are being badly treated, but not because of something that is covered by the anti-discrimination laws, you may still be protected by your employment rights or human rights.

Much of this material was drawn from Is that fair? How to recognise discriminationavailable from isthatdiscrimination.org.uk, whose website includes lots of real examples and guidance on recognising discrimination.