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The 4 types of discrimination: what every employer needs to know

The words discrimination are often used in everyday situations when they refer to a situation in which people have been unfairly treated for a given reason and are unlawfully discriminated against. Britain has nine protected features, based on the equality Act 2010.

It is not required for workers to take legal action for discrimination. Discrimination claims can be filed against employers throughout the employment process – from job advertisements to job references and beyond.

In this article, we look at the protected characteristics alongside the four main types of discrimination to assist you as an employer to have a better understanding of how to prevent discrimination from occurring within your business.

What are the 9 main protected characteristics?

Within the UK we have 9 protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

  1. Age.
  2. Disabilities.
  3. Gender adjustment.
  4. Marriage and civil partnerships.
  5. Pregnancy and maternity
  6. Race.
  7. Religion or beliefs.
  8. Sex
  9. Sexual orientation

No employee within the workplace should be discriminated on the basis of any of the above characteristics. Employers should double-check policies and make sure practices are in place to ensure that there’s not in direct discrimination on any of the 9 protected characteristics.

All businesses should have policies in place that allow and support any employee that wants to discuss discriminatory behavior that may be happening in the workplace to themselves or another employee.

What are the four types of discrimination in the workplace?

Workplace discrimination can be categorised into four types as outlined by the Equality Act of 2020; these include:

  1. Direct discrimination
  2. Indirect discrimination
  3. Harrassment
  4. Victimisation

Let’s look at each discrimination an employee may, but hopefully does not encounter:

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination means being treated differently or worse by other people because of an underlying reason. There can be multiple reasons for direct discrimination but the most common are age, race or sexual orientation.

In most occurrences there is normally a deliberate act or exclusion, direct discrimination does not always have to be intentional, which means even if discrimination occurred unintentionally a claim made by the employee can still succeed.

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination occurs when a business treats everyone the same, but requirements and practices that have been put into place create a disadvantage for a certain group of employees.

Whether this is done intentionally or unintentionally does not matter, so businesses need to make sure they are careful and inclusive when setting certain requirements.

What is harassment?

Harassment is classed as ‘unwanted conduct’ relating to a protected characteristic. This type of behaviour usually violates the person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, offensive or degrading environment for them.

The most common examples of harassment would be bullying, nicknames, gossip, intrusive or inappropriate comments and questions.

What is victimisation?

Victimisation occurs when an employee becomes a target of harmful behaviour due to making a claim about workplace discrimination, by providing evidence or by raising concern about discriminatory practices within the workplace.

Victimisation can be the most toxic of all the different types of discrimination, as individuals may be marked as troublemakers by the business and can in turn mean that an employee is left out, ignored, denied training, loses out on a promotion or made redundant.

For practical HR advice and support please contact us and one of the HR Solutions team will call you back to discuss suitable options.