Direct Discrimination

26 October 2020

Every business must take the proper steps towards ending discrimination.

Direct discrimination is one form mentioned under the Equality Act. An employer won’t know about these issues until it’s too late.

You shouldn’t underestimate how important it is to deal with direct discrimination. If you ignore this, you could face huge consequences. These include legal claims, hefty fines, and losing staff.

In this guide, we'll look at what direct discrimination is, what the law says, and how to protect your employees from it.

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination is when a person is treated unfairly due to a ‘protected characteristic’.

There are nine different versions named under the Equality Act 2010. The act states you cannot directly discriminate against someone because of their:

Employers have a legal duty to deal with discrimination at work. But this legal right isn’t only for employees. It also applies to applicants and trainees, too.

Are there different types of direct discrimination?

Yes, there are different types of direct discrimination, but they all have their own legal requirements. Let’s look at different types of direct discrimination:

Direct discrimination

This is when a person is treated less favourably due to a protected characteristic.

Discrimination by perception

This is when you 'think' a person has a protected characteristic. For example, you think an employee has specific religious beliefs and treats them less favourably because of this. (This is a personal perception and may not be true).

Discrimination by association

This is when a person is treated less favourably due to links with other people who have a protected characteristic. For example, having association with trade union groups.

an employee being excluded by their colleagues

What is the law on direct discrimination?

The Equality Act 2010 clearly defines what counts as unlawful discrimination.

An employee may raise an unlawful discrimination claim at any time. Maybe they faced unfair treatment or had their ‘protected characteristic’ rights breached. Under employment law, this legal right applies from an employee’s recruitment days, to their last.

Every employer needs to take reasonable steps when faced with a discrimination claim. This means going through the issue and looking for ways to resolve it.

It doesn’t matter if you weren’t aware of the issue before. Employers can still be guilty of unlawful discrimination (according to the Equality Act 2010). So, deal with the claim as soon as you can.

For example, a pregnant worker is allowed to take more paid sick leave. This reasonable adjustments don't count as ‘favourable treatment’ because of ‘pregnancy’ is one of protected characteristics.

Employers should support pregnant employees during work. Making reasonable adjustments will help reduce any unfair disadvantage they could face at work. If ignored, employees could raise a pregnancy discrimination claim.

Remember, the law covers all protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex, sexual orientation.

Can an employee raise direct discrimination claims?

Yes, any kind of employee or worker can raise direct discrimination claims.

Employees can raise them, but they’ll need to prove they were discriminated against. Meaning their employer neglected their protected characteristics.

They may decide to raise it to an employment tribunal (ET). Judges will go through the case and look for evidence of unlawful direct discrimination.

If the claim is upheld, they could face huge fines. Not to mention, their business could suffer from brand damages.

Is direct discrimination ever allowed?

It's worth noting not all unfair treatment leads to unlawful discrimination claims. There might be a legitimate aim behind a discriminatory act.

This is called objective justification’. The law can allow them because they’re necessary or for a good reason.

For example, an employer asks all workers to wear helmets, as it’s a health and safety practice. This rule could discriminate against those who wear religious headgear, like turbans or headscarves.

But the employer has a 'proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'. The rule also applies to everyone working in similar circumstances. So, it doesn't count as unlawful treatment.

It’s important to note this only applies to cases of indirect discrimination, not direct discrimination.

AN employee working on a laptop with a prosthetic limb

Examples of direct discrimination in the workplace

You might find unlawful discrimination in any area of your business. That’s why every employer must not neglect any protected characteristic. Let's look at direct discrimination examples:

Age discrimination

This is when a person is treated less favourably because of their age group. Like, not promoting an employee due to their young age.

It’s not just younger employees that face age discrimination. Older people can also suffer from age discrimination as well.

Disability discrimination

This is when someone receives less favourable treatment because of their health. A disabled person can suffer from a physical and mental disadvantage. Like, disciplining someone for missing work to care for their disabled child.

Gender reassignment discrimination

This is when a person is treated less favourably because they're trans. Like, a job advert rejects any who isn’t male or female (i.e., gender reassignment).

Marriage and civil partnership discrimination

This is when someone receives less favourable treatment because of their marital status. Like, refusing married employees more work hours because they have family commitments.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination

This is when a person is treated unfavourably because they're pregnant or are on maternity leave. Like, denying a pregnant employee a pay rise because they'll get maternity pay soon.

Race discrimination

This is when someone receives less favourable treatment because of their race. Like, not hiring foreign workers (even if they have the proper work documents).

Religion and beliefs discrimination

This is when a person faces less favourable treatment because of their beliefs. Like, disciplining an employee who decides to wear a headscarf due to their religion.

Sex discrimination

This is when someone receives less favourable treatment because they're male or female. Like, a female manager touching male employees inappropriately.

Sexual orientation discrimination

This is when a person is treated less favourably because of their sexual preference. Like, firing an employee after finding out their sexuality.

Employee smiling during a meeting

How to stop direct discrimination in the workplace

Every employer must handle every case of discrimination at work. This goes for staff-members affected through any form – direct or indirect.

Employers have a duty of care to protect all staff members from discrimination in the workplace. This includes all types of discrimination including harassment from colleagues and third parties.

Let's look at ways to stop direct discrimination:

Create an equality and diversity policy

The first step to take is to create an equality and diversity policy.

This policy shows your promise for equal opportunities. It’ll also show how you'll action targets fairly across your workforce. Your policy can include:

  • Equal opportunities for all - regardless of protected characteristics.
  • Examples of less favourable treatment.
  • Which legal rights apply (according to the Equality Act).
  • How discrimination complaints are processed.

Use proper resolution methods

You need to follow proper resolution methods for discrimination issues at work. The best step for this is to follow your grievance procedure.

Here, you’ll be able to investigate the matter and reach a justified solution. The guilty party must face appropriate disciplinary measures, like a formal warning. But this will depend on how serious the discriminatory act was.

It's important to take each claim seriously - even if you disagree with the claims. This can help you deal with the issue in the fairest way.

Offer equality training

It's important to build a workplace where all employees feel comfortable. You can easily achieve this with the help of your managers.

Offering equality training can help them deal with direct discrimination, harassment, and bullying.

If an employee faces a problem at work, they will usually talk to their line-manager first. That’s why it’s ideal to invest in this work relationship.

Managers will be able to spot issues and solve them before they escalate. With their help, you're on your way towards creating a happy and healthy business.

two employees working together happilytwo cafe employees working together happily

What is the difference between direct and indirect discrimination?

There is a vast difference between direct and indirect discrimination.

Indirect discrimination is when a work practice discriminates against one employee or group. (This form also comes under the Equality Act).

For example, a uniform policy states employees must wear knee-length skirts. This may discriminate against people who wear modest clothing for religious or beliefs.

Remember, the laws still apply whether you discriminate directly or indirectly. And covers all protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex, sexual orientation.

Get expert advice on direct discrimination with Peninsula

When it comes to direct discrimination, you need to deal with it correctly.

Every employer should always protect staff from unfair treatment. And create a workplace that will support equal opportunities for all.

If you ignore this, it could lead to huge consequences. Like attending tribunals and losing talented staff-members.

Peninsula offers expert advice on direct discrimination. Our HR team offers unlimited 24/7 HR employment advice which is available 365 days a year.

Want more support? Seek advice from one of our HR advisors. For further information, call our telephone number 0800 028 2420.

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