Discrimination, in legal terms, refers to a wide range of protection provided to workers against discrimination on grounds of sex, race, disability, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status. These are referred to as ‘protected characteristics’.

Most of these protections are now found in the Equality Act 2010.

Discrimination can occur in a number of ways, and, in the employment context, a wide variety of employees, workers and freelancers are protected.

Types of discrimination:

Direct Discrimination – where a person with a protected characteristic is treated less favourably than others ‘because of’ that characteristic.

Indirect Discrimination – a practice or way of working in the workplace that puts a person with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage as compared to others.

Discrimination by Association – detrimental treatment because someone a person knows or is associated with has a protected characteristic.

Discrimination by Perception – detrimental treatment because someone believes a person belongs to a group with protected characteristics.

Harassment – unwanted behaviour related to a protected characteristic that makes a person reasonably feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Victimisation – when a person is treated badly or subjected to detriment because they raised or supported a complaint of discrimination.

We have a lot of further information about discrimination here.

Published in…

Updates: For employers: Discrimination | For employees: Discrimination |

Share this definition on

Other employment law terms

  1. ACAS Early Conciliation
  2. Adoption appointments
  3. Adoption leave
  4. Alternative dispute resolution
  5. Ante-natal care
  6. Apprenticeship
  7. Basic award
  8. Calderbank offer
  9. Collective consultation
  10. Compensatory award
  11. Compromise agreement
  12. Constructive dismissal
  13. Contract of employment
  14. Disciplinary hearing
  15. Employee shareholder
  16. Employment tribunal
  17. ETO reason
  18. Flexible working requests
  19. Grievance
  20. Gross misconduct
  21. Harassment
  22. Industrial action
  23. Injury to feelings
  24. Maternity and parental rights
  25. Maternity leave
  26. Maternity pay
  27. Mediation
  28. Parental leave
  29. Paternity leave and pay
  30. Polkey deduction
  31. Pre-termination negotiations
  32. Protected characteristics
  33. Redundancy
  34. Restrictive covenants
  35. Settlement agreement
  36. Shared parental leave
  37. Staff handbook
  38. Statutory annual leave
  39. Strikes
  40. Study and training rights
  41. Summary dismissal
  42. Sunday working
  43. Trade union
  44. TUPE
  45. Unfair dismissal
  46. Unlawful deductions
  47. Victimisation
  48. Whistle-blowing
  49. Without prejudice
  50. Working Time Regulations
  51. Written particulars
  52. Wrongful dismissal
  53. Zero hours contracts