Introduction to the equality act- Part 2- Discrimination

There is more than one type of discrimination which people may not appreciate as discriminatory behavior. Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your physical appearance? Do you ever feel singled out? Have you ever been told you couldn’t do something because of your gender? Have you ever felt you weren’t able to rent somewhere due to your religious beliefs?

Everyone knows that discrimination exists, but were you aware of different categories of discrimination?

As discussed in Part 1 of our Equality Act 2010 refresher series, the act provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and protected characteristics. (You can read more about protected characteristics here.). The intention of the act is to deter discrimination in all aspects of society. Some lesser-known types of discrimination, which are set out within the Equality Act 2010, are featured below.

Direct Discrimination

This is where someone is directly discriminated against or treated less favourably than another due to a protected characteristic.

Associate Discrimination

This is when where someone is discriminated against due to being associated with another person who has a protected characteristic.

For example, if John, a heterosexual man, was being treated differently due to his flatmate being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, then he would be suffering from associate discrimination.

Discrimination by perception

This arises when person A is treated differently due to person B perceiving that person A is someone who possesses a type of protected characteristic, even if they do not.

For example, if Jane, who is not Asian, received anti-Asian abuse within the workplace from someone who thought that she was Asian, then she would be suffering from discrimination by perception.

Indirect Discrimination

This happens where a person or organisation:

Has practices or arrangements that seemingly treat everyone in a non-discriminatory way, but these arrangements or practices put people with protected characteristics at a disadvantage compared to those who do not have a protected characteristic.

For example, this can occur when for example an employer has a specific rule that applies to everyone in the workplace, but particularly disadvantages an individual employee or a group of employees due to a protected characteristic. E.g. if a dress code does not reasonably accommodate religious attire.


When someone treats you in a hostile way that violates your dignity or creates a degrading and offensive environment. For example, bar staff making fun of a customer with a learning disability.


People treating you unfairly for taking action under the Equality Act 2010, e.g. work colleagues treating you differently for making a sexual harassment complaint at work.

Discrimination arising from disability

This happens when someone treats you differently due to something that happens because of your disability or protected characteristic.

For example, if John suffers from bipolar disorder and is given a disciplinary warning from his employer for taking too many sickness-related absences because of his disorder. This could be seen as discriminatory behaviour.

When can discrimination be lawful?

There are limited circumstances where it might be lawful for a person or organisation to act in the way similar to the above examples. The employer will need to objectively justify that the treatment was appropriate or necessary, ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. If the organisation can prove that there were valid intentions or justifications behind their action, it may be seen as lawful. What is considered proportionate will depend on case-by-case basis. Some common examples employers may use are the need to ensure health and safety for all employees or keeping up staff attendance.

Employers/ organizations and service providers should consider making reasonable adjustments for people who may be at a disadvantage compared to others who do not have protected characteristics. You can find further useful information on what reasonable adjustments can be made by speaking with your local citizens advice bureau. Or read their articles here.

If you feel your rights under the Equality Act 2010 have been infringed, contact our lawyers. They are always happy to discuss your concerns. Feel free to call them on 0207 632 4300.


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