What is discrimination by perception?


Most employers will understand that discrimination is a term used to describe unfair treatment based on one of nine protected characteristics laid down in the Equality Act 2010. However, discrimination can take many forms, including discrimination by perception. Our guide details what this is about and how your business can avoid breaking current UK laws.

What does discrimination by perception mean?

It’s when an employee (or job candidate) receives unfavourable treatment as others believe they possess a protected characteristic—even though they don't. This is also referred to as perceptive discrimination.

How does it work?

Despite not possessing a protected characteristic, those who do suffer unfavourable treatment may claim direct discrimination by perception. However, the protected characteristics of pregnancy and maternity, as well as marriage and civil partnerships receive exclusion from this. Some discrimination by perception examples include:

  • Refusing to hire someone with an Arabic name because you wrongly assume they’re Muslim.
  • Bullying a heterosexual employee for being a homosexual because they appear camp at work.
  • Failing to promote a member of staff because you wrongly believe they have a disability.

They’re some of the most common types. Other examples of perceptive discrimination are:

  • Where a business rejects a job application from a white man a manager thinks is black due to the sound of their name.
  • If an employer rejects a female job candidate

If you subject an employee to perceptive discrimination, you could end up paying a significant amount at an employment tribunal—the compensation for discrimination claims has no limits. So, in short, discrimination by perception definition is where an employee receives prejudice due to incorrect perceptions about a protected characteristic.

How to avoid perceptive discrimination

It’s important to have a policy on equality and diversity in place that’ll enable you to outline your approach to preventing discrimination and promoting an inclusive working environment. Training is a useful tool in getting this message across to staff and sensitivity training can be particularly valuable to new starters. This should focus especially on the dangers of workplace banter and how even remarks meant as a joke can be discriminatory if it offends an individual. It’s also important to have a clear and reliable grievance procedure in place so individuals can report any instances of perceptive discrimination. So it’s vital that staff feel as if they can rely on you to deal with any reported incidents in a fair and consistent manner, as turning a blind eye to certain behaviour may discourage people from coming forwards in the future. Ultimately, while it may be a lesser-known example of discrimination, it’s important you take steps to prevent and address incidents of perceptive discrimination. Taking the effort to do this will create a safe and positive working environment which is sure to help increase productivity and retention rates in your business.

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