Dealing with a discrimination case can be disruptive to a business as well as costly and time-consuming. Taking early action to minimise damage and resolve the issue before it escalates is always advisable.

What is employee discrimination?

Discrimination in the workplace is treating an employee less favourably than another employee on the basis of nine characteristics.

These characteristics, known as protected characteristics, are set out in the Equality Act 2010 and are:

  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Religious or philosophical beliefs
  • Marriage or civil partnership
  • Gender reassignment
  • The discrimination could take place even before an employee takes up a job, for example, where a job advertisement is discriminatory. It could also occur at any time during employment, such as in selecting someone for redundancy.

The four types of workplace discrimination

There are four ways in which someone can be discriminated against in the workplace:

1. Direct discrimination, where someone is discriminated against on the grounds of a protected characteristic. For example, they are selected for redundancy because of their age.

This extends to discrimination on the grounds of a perceived characteristic, such as assuming someone has a particular sexual orientation, and also discrimination on the grounds of association, where someone is discriminated against because they are friendly with someone who has or is perceived to have a protected characteristic.

2. Indirect discrimination, where a company rule disadvantages a group of people, for example, only offering training to full-time employees, when most of the part-time workers are women.

3. Harassment because of a protected characteristic, with an employee being subjected to unwanted conduct which is intimidating, hostile, humiliating or degrading.

4. Victimisation, where an employee is treated unfairly because they have raised a discrimination issue in the past, either on their own behalf or on behalf of a colleague.

Can employers discriminate?

In certain situations, discrimination may be justified. If an employee can show that they have been treated less well than a colleague, then it is for the employer to demonstrate either that this was not because of a protected characteristic or that the discrimination was justified.

It is a valid defence to make a decision based on a characteristic such as race or age where there is a good business reason for the discrimination and the discrimination is proportionate, appropriate and necessary.

A financial motive alone would not normally be sufficient justification.

By way of example, requiring a firefighter to be in good physical condition might indirectly discriminate against older applicants, however, this requirement is essential to carry out the job safely so specifying a good level of fitness would not be classed as discriminatory.

Discrimination rules for employers

As well as prohibiting discrimination against someone who has a protected characteristic unless it can be justified, there is also a rule that in certain cases it may be acceptable to positively discriminate in someone’s favour.

This is referred to as positive action and it is permitted either to make a situation fairer for workers or job applicants, although it must be shown that others are not being discriminated against because of it.

How our discrimination lawyers can help

At Springhouse Employment Solicitors we work only in the area of employment law meaning we have genuine expertise across the sector.

We have extensive experience in representing clients accused of discrimination. We will step in to deal with the matter quickly before the situation escalates and work to resolve the issue without delay so that you can focus on your business.

Practical steps to avoid discrimination claims

We can help protect your business against costly discrimination claims by assisting you in taking practical steps to safeguard your business.

We will guide you through this complex area of employment law, from providing staff handbooks and training to setting up clear complaint procedures and making adjustments to accommodate any specific employee needs.

Defending discrimination claims

We can help you successfully defend a discrimination claim. We will guide you through what can be a complex and sensitive process, ensuring that you comply with everything that is required.

Our specialist employment law solicitors, who have extensive experience in successfully defending discrimination claims, will fight doggedly to protect your business and its reputation.

Contact us for an initial chat with our helpful team.

Expertise for employers

Starting employment: contracts and policies

During employment: handling staff problems

Common issues raised by staff

Ending employment



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