3. How the law defines discrimination

The following list gives you a general description of the types of acts that may both breach this policy and be unlawful. Sometimes actions can be intentional, and sometimes unintentional. We include examples of both types in this list:

3.1.1 Direct discrimination: this is when somebody is treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic than somebody else has been, or would have been, in identical circumstances.

Examples: rejecting a job applicant because of their race, or refusing to promote someone because they are pregnant.

3.1.2 Indirect discrimination: this is when a group of people with one of the  protected characteristics (subject to a couple of exceptions) is put at a disadvantage by a provision, criterion or practice applied to all staff unless the treatment is justified for a good business reason.

Examples: refusing a request to work part-time without a good business reason (which indirectly discriminates against women, who are more likely to have childcare responsibilities); insisting all staff work Saturdays without a good business reason (which indirectly discriminates against Jewish employees, who may not be able to work on the Jewish Sabbath).

3.1.3 Associative discrimination: this is where somebody is treated less favourably because of the personal characteristics of somebody else.

Example: treating an employee less favourably because their parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

3.1.4 Perceived discrimination: this occurs where someone is treated less favourably because someone wrongly believes they have a particular protected characteristic.

Example: treating an employee less favourably because someone thinks he is gay, when in fact he isn’t gay.

3.1.5 Harassment: this is when a hostile, humiliating, degrading, intimidating or similarly offensive environment is created in relation to a protected characteristic. We also consider it harassment for a worker to be subjected to uninvited conduct related to a protected characteristic that — as an intended or unintended consequence — violates their dignity.

Examples: name calling, lewd comments, excluding colleagues, making insensitive jokes, and displaying pornographic material are all examples of harassment. We deal in detail with this under our separate policy on Harassment and Bullying.

3.1.6 Victimisation: in a legal context, ‘victimisation’ has a much more restricted meaning than in real life. It happens when a worker has complained about harassment or discrimination, or has supported a colleague in their complaint, and is then treated less favourably as a result.

Examples: an employee who is ‘sent to Coventry’ because they spoke up on behalf of one of their colleagues in a harassment investigation, or an employee who is dismissed under a pretext because they have complained of discrimination.

The ‘protected characteristics’ are:

3.2.1 age

3.2.2 race (which includes colour and ethnic/national origin)

3.2.3 disability

3.2.4 religion or belief

3.2.5 sex

3.2.6 gender reassignment

3.2.7 pregnancy or maternity

3.2.8 sexual orientation; and

3.2.9 marital or civil partnership status

There are other actions which can be unlawful under the equal opportunities legislation.

Examples include:

3.3.1 failure to make reasonable adjustments to minimise certain disadvantages suffered by a disabled employee (or job applicant)

3.3.2 instructing another person (or applying pressure on them) to discriminate

3.3.3 knowingly assisting somebody else when they carry out a discriminatory act

3.3.4 discriminating against somebody believed to have a protected characteristic, whether or not they actually do, or because they associate with a third party who does.

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