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Discrimination at work - summary

This advice applies to England

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the employment tribunal.

If you’re treated unfairly at work and it’s because of who you are, it may be unlawful discrimination. If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about how to decide if something is unlawful discrimination at work.

Identifying discrimination at work

You can follow these steps to check whether unlawful discrimination has taken place:

  • who’s treating you unfairly - unfair treatment only counts as unlawful discrimination if it's carried out by certain people
  • why you’re being treated unfairly - unfair treatment only counts as unlawful discrimination if it's for certain reasons
  • what's the unfair treatment - only certain types of behaviour count as unlawful discrimination
  • how is the treatment unfair - there are different types of unlawful discrimination.

Who’s treating you unfairly?

People who mustn’t discriminate against you at work include:

  • employers
  • other employees or colleagues
  • employment agencies
  • someone an employment agency arranges for you to work for.

Why are you being treated unfairly?

It’s only unlawful discrimination if you’re treated unfairly because of:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.

What’s the unfair treatment?

Employers mustn’t discriminate against you at work - for example, in relation to your terms and conditions of employment or when they terminate your employment.

Employers also mustn’t discriminate against you when you apply for a job - for example, in the way they recruit you or by not offering you the job.

How is the treatment unfair?

There are different types of unlawful discrimination. You may be experiencing unlawful discrimination if someone:

  • treats you differently and worse than others because of who you are, because of who they think you are or because of someone you are connected to - this is called direct discrimination
  • applies a policy, rule or way of doing things that puts you and other people like you at a disadvantage compared with others - this is called indirect discrimination
  • treats you badly because of something connected to your disability - this is called discrimination arising from a disability
  • fails to make a reasonable adjustment if you're disabled - this is called the duty to make reasonable adjustments
  • treats you in a way that is offensive, frightening, degrading, humiliating or distressing - this is called harassment
  • treats you badly because you complained about discrimination or because they think you complained about discrimination - this is called victimisation.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website.


Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides free and impartial information and advice on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

To talk to an adviser about your employment problem, call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.

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UAT (Release)