It is unlawful to discriminate against someone at work because of their age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

The Equality Act 2010 was set up to protect employees from being subject to discrimination at work. Employers have a duty to implement policies and procedures that are compliant with the law in order to prevent employees suffering from either unintentional or deliberate discriminatory treatment while in their workplace.

Protected characteristics

There are protected characteristics listed in The Equality Act 2010, which are unlawful to discriminate against. These include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Gender re-assignment
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion, belief or lack of belief
  • Race
  • Pregnancy or having a child
  • Being married or in a civil partnership

Someone who has complained about discrimination or supported someone who has been discriminated against can also be protected.

What discriminatory behaviour are workers protected against?

There are many different types of discrimination that need to be controlled in workplaces, including:

  • Direct discrimination: when a person with a protected characteristic is treated unfairly because of that characteristic
  • Indirect discrimination: when rules and regulations put a person with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage
  • Harassment: when wrongful behaviour takes place towards someone with a protected characteristic
  • Victimisation: when someone is treated in an unjust manner after they have complained

Not all workplace discrimination is a deliberate act. Working conditions and policies can also cause people with protected characteristics to be treated less favourably, even in situations where no discrimination was intended. It’s important for employers therefore to ensure that matters such as dismissal, employment terms and conditions, pay and benefits, promotion and transfer opportunities, training, recruitment and redundancy should all be carried out in a fair manner and without prejudice, with people with protected characteristics treated the same as those without.

How should employers prevent discrimination at work?

Employers should have a workplace discrimination policy in place so that all workers are protected from unfavourable treatment. Workplace conditions and policies should be reviewed whenever necessary to ensure that they don’t unintentionally treat certain people unfairly. Meanwhile, supervisors and management should be trained in the prevention of discrimination. Bullying policies should be implemented so that employees are fully aware of what can be classed as unacceptable conduct, and the disciplinary action that can arise from such wrongful behaviour.

What should employees do if they discriminated against?

Employees who feel that they have been treated in an unfair manner can talk to their employer, informally if they so wish, in an attempt to sort out the issue.

If the discrimination continues or worsens following this discussion, workers can then choose to launch a formal complaint against a person or organisation, use a mediator in an attempt to resolve the dispute or even pursue a claim in an Employment Tribunal or court.

As employers are legally obligated to prevent discrimination at work, failing to stop or reduce the risk of unfair treatment can cause workers to suffer from low morale, and also lead to the employer having to deal with poor performance as well as disputes and discrimination claims.

Therefore, adhering to The Equality Act 2010 and adequately protecting workers from employment discrimination is in the best interests of all parties.