Equality, Diversity and Discrimination in the Workplace

10 Sep

The introduction of the Equality Act 2010 aimed to combine and simplify separate pieces of legislation into one Act and improve equal job opportunities and fairness for employees and job applicants. However, the prevalence and frequency of successful discrimination claims continues to dominate the HR headlines.

Whilst there are arguments that the Equality Act is out of date and requires renovation, it remains the main form of legislation currently in place for protecting those who hold, are perceived to have, or associated with someone who has a protected characteristic from being treated unfairly or differently. The Act covers nine ‘protected characteristics’ comprising of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

With the abolishment of tribunal fees in 2017 seeing a 165% increase in claims between 2017 – 2018, and with workers not requiring any length of service to bring a claim, there are little obstacles for workers that wish to pursue a claim for discrimination. It is therefore extremely important that employers understand the different forms of discrimination and communicate this to all of their workforce.

There are four main types of discrimination covered under the Equality Act. These are direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination occurs where you treat someone less favourably than someone else is treated (or would be treated) because the person has, is perceived to have or is associated with someone that has a protected characteristic. An example may be where you decide to dismiss someone because you’ve found out they have a disability, or where you decide not to recruit someone because they have a particular protected characteristic.

Indirect Discrimination

An example of indirect discrimination is where there is a practice, policy or rule which applies to everyone in the same way, but it indirectly has a worse effect on some people than others. The main distinction is that a practice, policy or rule applies to everyone rather than just one person (which would constitute direct discrimination). An example of this might be where there is a clause in all contracts requiring employees to travel around the UK at short notice. This may put women with young children at a particular disadvantage as they’re more likely to be carers of children.


Harassment can occur where someone in the workplace is subject to ‘unwanted conduct’. For example, a violation of a worker’s dignity or the creation of an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The harassment has to fall within 3 types of discrimination. The first is where the unwanted conduct is related to a protected characteristic. The second is where the unwanted conduct is of a sexual nature. The third is where you’ve been treated less favourably because you rejected or were submitted to unwanted sexual behaviour or behaviour related to gender reassignment or sex. An example of harassment might be where an employee/worker is subject to unwanted racial jokes because of their race, skin colour or origin country etc.


Victimisation can occur where someone is punished or threatened to be punished because they have either asserted a right under the Equality Act, made a complaint, helped someone else make a complaint or refused to do something because it would be discrimination, sexual harassment or victimisation. An example of this may be where an employee is bullied or intimidated by colleagues because they’ve made or helped someone else make a complaint of discrimination or harassment.

Whilst the topic of discrimination is vast, it is understandable how it can be extremely concerning for employers who wish to make sure that they are complying with legal requirements. The benefit of which can not only reduce potential legal action but can also help to promote a culture of equality and diversity in the workplace, increase team morale, strengthen employer branding, improve job satisfaction, increase employee retention and overall, increase profitability for the entire organisation.

Want to learn more?

Our Equality, Diversity and Discrimination online training course explains how these topics relate to one another, as well as how to identify and address issues of unfairness and discrimination in the workplace.

If you have any questions, please contact our Employment Law team on 02920 853794 or at lauren.hill@thomas-carroll.co.uk.