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Many people make unjust distinctions everyday. Unfortunately this is human nature, but if the person making the distinction is one of your managers then this will implicate your business.

Discrimination is currently a hot topic for employers. However, more importantly for your business is the impact it can have for your employees. It is a situation that can quickly get out of control and spread throughout your workforce.

The new Equality Act, harmonises and replaces previous anti-discrimination legislation. Although your responsibilities under the Act will stay largely the same, there are some changes that will affect both employers and business that provide goods and services to the public. These include the introduction of 'protected characteristics' and new forms of discrimination.

The Equality Act covers exactly the same groups of individuals that were protected by the previous legislation. However, the headings of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity are now to be known as ‘protected characteristics'.

The new Act also extends some of these protections to characteristics that previously were not covered by equality legislation.

Types of discrimination are as follows:
• Direct discrimination, which is when a person is treated less favourably on the grounds of a personal characteristic such as their age, a disability they have, their race or religion, or their gender or sexual orientation. For example, if a female employee is sexually harassed by a male manager. It is rare that direct discrimination can be justified on objective grounds.

• Indirect discrimination occurs where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put people of one sex/race/religion etc at a particular disadvantage compared with persons of a different sex/race/religion etc. For example, if one of the requirements for a job is that the applicant must be over 6 feet tall this eliminates most female applicants. However, it is possible to objectively justify such a provision, criterion or practice if it can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Other forms of discrimination include:

• Discrimination by association has also been introduced, which is direct discrimination against someone because they associate with another person who possesses a protected characteristic.

• Perception discrimination, this is direct discrimination against an individual because others think they possess a particular protected characteristic. It applies even if the person does not actually possess that characteristic.

• Harassment - this is behaviour that is deemed offensive by the recipient. Employees can now complain of the behaviour they find offensive even if it is not directed at them.

• Victimisation - this occurs when someone is treated badly because they have made or supported a complaint or grievance under this legislation.

If you are seeking to put into practice an anti-discrimination policy or if you need assistance with a discrimination issue Employment Law Support can help you.