What are the Types of Discrimination at Work?

There are different types of discrimination in the workplace, including direct and indirect discrimination. As an employee, you are protected against all types of discrimination at work. Many of the discrimination rules also apply to those working and even applying for work who are not classed as employees.

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Discrimination at Work

Discrimination at work is when an employee is treated unfairly and subject to detriment because of a Protected Characteristic. Under the Equality Act 2010, there are nine protected characteristics. These are:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership

If you are treated unfavourably because you possess one of these nine characteristics, you have been the victim of discrimination. If this happens to you at work, you could be entitled to take legal action.

Types of Discrimination at Work

There are different ways in which discrimination at work can occur. It’s useful to know the types of discrimination because it helps you understand whether you have been treated unlawfully. Sometimes, it’s not as obvious as you might think.

The types of discrimination that can happen at work include:

  • Direct discrimination
  • Discrimination by association
  • Perception discrimination
  • Indirect discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Victimisation

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination is when you are treated less favourably because of one of the nine protected characteristics above. For example, you are not promoted because of your age.

Discrimination by Association

Discrimination by association is when you are treated less favourably because you associate with someone who possesses a protected characteristic. For instance, you are not offered a job because you have a homosexual family member.

Perception Discrimination

Perception discrimination is when you are treated less favourably because people think you have a protected characteristic. So, it might be that you are not given a key account because your manager thinks you belong to a certain religion. It does not matter what religion you practice, if any. It still amounts to discrimination.

Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination is when a rule, policy or practice at work puts you at an unfair disadvantage, because of a protected characteristic. This might happen if you move to an office which does not accommodate your disability.

In certain circumstances, policies that put an employee at an unfair disadvantage are allowed. This is permitted if the company can justify it is a legitimate business need.


Harassment is when other people behave in a way that violates your dignity, or creates a hostile, humiliating or degrading environment. This behaviour must relate to your protected characteristic in some way. This might include colleagues making racist comments or chastising you for going on maternity leave.


Victimisation is when you are treated badly because you have raised a grievance regarding discrimination. Or, it could be that you are treated badly because you are supporting a colleague who has raised a grievance. For example, you might be ostracised by your colleagues for making a sexual harassment claim.

There are some special types of discrimination applying only when dealing with disability, including claims arising from a failure of an employer to make reasonable adjustments to working arrangements.

Our Employment Solicitors Can Help You

If you suspect that you have been subject to discrimination at work, please speak to our Employment Solicitors.

Discrimination in the workplace is not always clear-cut. There are times when something that seems discriminatory is actually permitted. On the other hand, there are occasions when you will have been the victim of discrimination without realising it.

To find out, get in touch with our Employment Solicitors for expert legal advice. If we believe you have been unlawfully discriminated against, we can explain your options in greater detail. This might include making a claim against your employer, or former employer.

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