The Equality Act 2010 sets out various types of discrimination:

  • Direct Discrimination
  • Indirect Discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Victimisation

In employment situations, the Equality Act sets out a number of ‘protected characteristics’. It is unlawful to discriminate against others based on any of these protected characteristics.

Protected Characteristics

  • Age
  • Race (including colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin)
  • Disability
  • Marriage or Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy or Maternity
  • Religion or Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender Reassignment

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination is the typical example that most people will think of when considering discrimination. The Equality Act confirms that direct discrimination is where ‘because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others’.

It is clear from this that the treatment has to be ‘because of’ a protected characteristic. It is not enough for there to be poor treatment alone, instead there has to treatment that is less favourable than others would have been treated.

Indirect Discrimination

This is another form of discrimination that applies when an employer has a policy, practice or rule which applies to everyone in the same way, but it effects some people worse than others. For example, a policy that requires everyone to work a compressed week from 5 days to 4 days, meaning longer working days but a shorter week. This is potentially indirectly discriminatory to disabled people who may find it difficult to work longer hours. If the shift pattern cannot be justified, this may amount to indirect discrimination.


This is another type of discrimination and occurs where there is unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an offensive, intimidating, humiliating, degrading or hostile environment for them. It is important to understand that intention is irrelevant here, it is the purpose or effect on the person that is important in establishing if harassment has taken place.


This subset of discrimination is intended to protect those who complain about the acts of discrimination above. Victimisation occurs when A subjects B to a detriment because they have done, or are believed to have done, or may do a protected act. Effectively if an employee raises a complaint of discrimination against their employer and then are treated badly as a result of this, this could amount to victimisation.

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