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04. Anti-Discrimination Laws
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United Kingdom

04. Anti-Discrimination Laws


Anti-discrimination legislation in the UK is concerned with protecting employees, applicants for employment and other categories of protected individuals from discrimination and harassment in respect of the following protected characteristics:

  • age;
  • disability;
  • gender reassignment;
  • marriage and civil partnership;
  • pregnancy and maternity;
  • race;
  • religion or belief;
  • sex; and
  • sexual orientation.

Extent of Protection

Discrimination can be either direct or indirect:

  • direct discrimination occurs where, ‘because of one of the protected characteristics’, an employer treats an employee less favourably than it treats or would treat others.
  • indirect discrimination occurs where acts, decisions or policies are applied which have the effect of disadvantaging a group of people with one of the protected characteristics.

If an employee can show that they have been treated less favourably compared to a colleague with circumstances broadly similar to their own, then they may have a claim for discrimination against their employer.

However, the extent of protection afforded to employees is not without limits, and employers may be able to rely on the objective justification defence if the act etc. was a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Victimisation relating to any of the protected characteristics is prohibited. Victimisation occurs where an employer treats a person less favourably because they have brought a discrimination complaint or have assisted another in doing so.

Protections Against Harassment

Harassment occurs where an employer subjects a worker to unwanted conduct relating to a protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating a worker’s dignity, or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the worker.

Employer’s Obligation to Provide Reasonable Accommodations

UK anti-discrimination legislation imposes a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to their premises or employment arrangements (e.g. altering working hours) if they substantially disadvantage a disabled worker or job applicant, unless the employer does not know, and it cannot be expected to know, that the worker or applicant is disabled.

A number of factors can be taken into account to assess whether it is reasonable to make a particular adjustment, including the cost of the adjustment, the financial resources of the employer, how easy it is to make the adjustment and how much it would improve the situation.


A dismissal on discriminatory grounds is not subject to any limit on compensation and there is no requirement for any period of continuous service.  The award is made up of:

  • A compensatory award – uncapped for past and future financial losses and career loss, judged in the light of the employee’s future job prospects; and
  • An injury to feelings award – there are 3 guideline bands, with the upper band ranging from GBP 33,700 – GBP 56,200, depending on the seriousness of the case – but an exceptional case may exceed GBP 56,200.

In addition, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has a range of powers, including the power to undertake formal investigations and issue non-discrimination notices.

Other Requirements

Employers in the UK are not required to monitor how many job applicants they recruit from different groups of people, or the characteristics of the people working for them, but many employers do.

Any questions

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