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Unlawful Discrimination & the Equality Act 2010

Under the Equality Act 2010, ‘Protected Characteristics’ are Age, Disability, Gender reassignment, Marriage and civil partnership, Race, Religion or belief, Sex and Sexual orientation. Therefore, employees have statutory protection against certain discriminatory acts connected to those Protected Characteristics.

What is Age Discrimination? Employers must not discriminate against an employee because of age, unless the decision can be objectively justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.  For the majority of roles, compulsory retirement is no longer lawful. For example, it is potentially unlawful to pass someone over for a promotion because they either appear too young, or are considered to be too old.

What is a Disability?  Under the Equality Act 2010, a disability is a physical or mental impairment with a substantial effect on your ability to carry out day to day activities and which has or is likely to last for a year or more. Many conditions potentially qualify as a disability under the act, including cancer, back problems, depression, dyslexia, and many more. Whether a particular condition qualifies as a disability is a factual and legal question to be determined by the Employment Tribunal.

What is disability discrimination? Under s15 Discrimination arising from a disability will be when the employer treats the employee unfavourably because of something arising out of their disability. The employer can defend the claim if they can show that doing so was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, it might be discriminatory to withhold a bonus from a disabled employee because of the time off the had to take for medical appointments

What are ‘Reasonable Adjustments’ in relation to Disability? Under s20 Equality Act, the employer has a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the system of working if it applies a ‘provision, criterion or practice’ that puts the disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage compared to colleagues. For example, a reasonable adjustment for someone with depression might be to allow them to work on flexi hours or provide them with additional line management support. What adjustments are reasonable will depend on the individual in question, the nature of the role and the resources of the employer.

What is unlawful Harassment? Under s26 Equality Act 2010, a person harasses an employee if they engage in unwanted conduct related to a Protected Characteristic, and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating his or her dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the employee.

This also includes unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, or that is related to gender reassignment or sex.

What is Sex Discrimination? Sex discrimination may be direct; namely when the employer treats a female employer less favourably than it treats a comparable man. An example of direct discrimination may be offering a man a job when he is less well qualified than a woman.

It may be indirect discrimination, which is when the employer applies a provision, criterion or practice which puts her at a disadvantage compared to male employees. An example may be requiring staff to work late, when women are more likely to need to leave on time for child-care duties. Another example could be when an employer decides they only want women to work on reception.

What is Race Discrimination?  Race discrimination is when the employer treats an employee less favourably because of their colour, nationality, or ethnic / national origins (see s9 Equality Act). The employee needs to say that they were treated less favourably than someone without their Protected Characteristic. For example, this may occur if a person of colour is scored more harshly at an interview than a white interview.

What is an award for Injury to Feelings? Please see our separate page on injury to feelings.

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