Types of protected characteristicsIt’s not always easy to recognise when you’re being discriminated at work – and just as easy to believe you’re a victim of discrimination when you’re not.
Legally, discrimination happens when you’re unfairly treated by your employer or colleague based on protected characteristics.
Outlined in the Equalities Act 2010, these characteristics are fundamental to who you are, and include:
- Marriage and civil partnerships
- Pregnancy and maternity
Types of discriminationYou’ll generally come across two types of discrimination in the workplace.
How to spot discrimination at work
Hiring processYou’ll sometimes see discrimination in the hiring process. For instance, a job ad that specifies the company is only recruiting staff with 5 years’ experience could indirectly discriminate against younger people. You might also see a job only advertised internally to a set team, in which all candidates have the same background, ethnicity, or other characteristic – and that puts others at a clear disadvantage.
ContractsAlways read your contract carefully. It’s possible that certain terms and conditions within will hit you harder due to protected characteristics. For example, your contract stipulates that you must work specific hours, but those hours infringe on your religious practice. You should try to talk to your manager or senior staff, as most companies will be willing to make allowances and avoid a discrimination claim.
PromotionMany discrimination cases are due to an employee being passed over for promotion. Seeing a lesser-qualified colleague get the job you’ve been training your whole life for is frustrating. More so if they only got the job due to their age or gender. An example might be a manager that doesn’t promote you because you’re a woman and ‘men don’t get pregnant’. Unless the company can legally justify their reason not to promote you, it’s a clear case of discrimination.
Pay, pensions, and perksWhile it may seem obvious – employees with similar experience doing the same job should be paid the same – some companies don’t adhere to this basic principle. If your employer is paying you less because of, say, your ethnicity or gender, that could indicate that you’re facing discrimination. This extends to your company’s pension plan, plus the benefits and perks of your job.
DismissalNo-one should be fired strictly because of their protected characteristics. Only your conduct (or, rather, misconduct) should have a bearing on your employment – and even then, it’s possible that you’re the victim of unfair dismissal. So, your boss can’t fire you just because your faith requires you to pray at specific times during the day.
What isn’t discrimination?While workplace discrimination covers many areas, there are a handful of times when an employer takes action that appears to be discrimination, but technically or legally isn’t. An employment solicitor will be able to help you identify whether you can make a discrimination claim.
Unrelated to protected characteristics
Justified business decisions
When should you talk to employment solicitors?You can talk to an employment solicitor whenever you feel you’ve been discriminated against at work. They’ll be able to advise you on the case and how to challenge an employer or colleague.
Legal action is usually considered the last resort, before taking your claim to an employment tribunal. In the first instance, keep a record of your discrimination and try to resolve the matter with your manager or senior staff.
If you don’t go through mediation this beforehand, the tribunal will offer you the opportunity – known as ‘early conciliation’. You or your employer can decline to attend, but you could find you can’t make a claim, or find your case seriously hampered.
For more help, see our guide ‘So, you’ve been discriminated against at work: your next steps’
Employers have a legal obligation to prevent workplace discrimination. If the problem can’t be resolved, make a formal complaint. By law, your employer must investigate this.
If you believe you have a discrimination claim, use our quick quote form to find employment solicitors who will take the time to understand your case.