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Types of discrimination

There are a number of different types of discrimination. Please note that these do vary by characteristic so this is just a brief summary:

Direct Discrimination

Direct discrimination is where a person is treated “less favourably” than someone else of because of a protected characteristic. Direct discrimination is the most commonly understood form of discrimination.

Example: say two employees have a fight at work in a situation where there is no evidence to suggest that one party was at more fault than the other. One employee is white British and the other is Asian. The employer dismisses the Asian employee because he is Asian and “more likely to be a trouble causer”. The white British employee is not dismissed.

Normally an employee would need to show that they have been treated less favourably than a real or hypothetical comparator (i.e. some other person without the characteristic who would not have been treated that way).

Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination is a little more difficult to understand. Where an employer operates any “provision, criterion or practice” which puts people of one protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage compared with other people, indirect discrimination takes place unless the PCP is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Example: An employer makes it mandatory for employees to work Sundays. This requirement applies across the board and appears, at first glance, to be neutral. However, one employee’s religion forbids him from working on a Sunday. When applied across the board, this requirement would disadvantage members of this particular religion and disadvantages, and is therefore indirectly discriminatory.

Another example might be if, in a job advertisement, an employer said: “we only employ people over 6 foot tall”. This would mean that, statistically speaking, more men than women could apply for the job.

An employer who applied the PCPs outlined above would need to show that they had good reason to do so – that it was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim – or they would be discriminating indirectly. This defence is known as “objective justification”.

Harassment

Harassment is unwanted conduct that violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.

Examples: display of nude calendars, racist, sexist or ageist banter, unwanted sexual innuendo, jokes referring to someone’s sexual orientation or religious belief.

There is no defence to harassment once it has been established.

There is more information on harassment on the harassment page.

Victimisation

The victimisation provisions are designed to protect people who have done “protected acts” (such as having brought discrimination claims) from being penalised for this involvement. It therefore protects those who have made complaints of discrimination (whether successful or not) as well as those who have given evidence in such matters from being less favourably treated as a result.

Example: A female employee complains that she has been sexually harassed by her line manager. She later leaves and the employer refuses to provide a reference to a potential new employer because she had raised that complaint.

There is no defence to victimisation, once established.

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