Equal Opportunities in the Workplace

Discrimination comes in many forms. Direct discrimination occurs when you are treated less favourable than others. Indirect discrimination arises in situations when certain rules or arrangements made for everyone result in a select number of people being placed at a disadvantage. Furthermore, the harassment and victimisation of individuals who have raised concerns about discrimination or harassment in the workplace is also seen as a discriminatory act. The Equality Act 2010 protects individuals from discriminated against at work, as a consumer, in an educational setting, and when using public services. This legislation also provides protection against discrimination when buying or renting property and if you are a member or guest of a private club or association. It is against the law to discriminate because of: age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, disability, race, and religion. These are also known as protected characteristics.

Your Rights

The Equality Act 2010 protects you from workplace discrimination. The law protects and promotes your right to equal opportunity in the workplace. The concept of equal opportunity relates directly to the idea that workers are entitled to, and have access to, equal chance to: apply for positions, be chosen for promotions, be trained in new skills, and not have their employment terminated for unjust reasons. Protection against discrimination covers pay and benefits, employment terms and conditions, promotion and transfer opportunities, training, redundancy and dismissal, and recruitment. The law also protects workers who have themselves complained about discrimination or supported someone's complaint. There are also protections for fixed-term and part-time workers, who are protected against being treated unfairly when compared to permanent employees. Employees are also protected from unfair treatment based on their membership, or non-membership, in a trade union.


Race discrimination occurs when employees are treated unfairly or differently because of their ethnic, racial or national background. Race can essentially be defined as a group of individuals who share the same or similar culture, history, language, customs and skin colours Being treated differently because of race is permitted in instances when belonging to a specific race is essential for a job, or if an organisation is taking positive action to encourage and develop members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented or disadvantaged.


Age discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently because of their age or age group. It includes discrimination by perception, in which someone assumes you are (or aren't) a specific age or in a certain age group. This type of discrimination is lawful in certain circumstances, such as when age-based concessions or age verification is required.

Sexual Orientation

You may not be discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, whether you are heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. You are also protected against discrimination when someone assumes your sexual orientation, or if you are connected to someone with a specific sexual preference. Discrimination based on sexual orientation may be lawful because of an occupation requirement, such when employing staff for a helpline that helps LGBTQ+ youth

Gender Identity and Transgender

Discrimination based on gender identity and gender reassignment is not permitted, including if you are transsexual and your current gender identity is different than the gender that was assigned at birth. The law also protects against discrimination from someone who may assume that an individual is transsexual or if they are connected to a transsexual person. Difference in treatment is permitted in some instances, such as gender requirements for competitive sports.


Discrimination based on disability occurs when an individual is treated differently due to a mental or physical condition, including conditions they may have previously had in the past. Disabled employees have the same rights as other workers. Employers should make reasonable adjustments that help disabled workers and job applicants. Adjustments might include alternative formats for application forms - such as audio or Braille versions - and inclusive interview arrangements (e.g. providing wheelchair access). Other adjustments might relate to aptitude tests, discipline and grievances, dismissal or redundancy, promotion and transfer opportunities, training, and terms of employment such as pay. They also include providing appropriate facilities and equipment, including work-related benefits such as access to refreshment and recreation facilities.


The law protects you from discrimination based on your sex, including being treated differently because you are or aren't female or male. It also protects against discrimination that may arise if someone assumes that you are the opposite sex or connected to someone of a specific sex. Sexual discrimination is lawful in some instances, including occupational requirements, religious requirements, or when taking positive action to encourage or develop people based on their sex when they have been underrepresented or disadvantages in a specific role or activity.

Religion and Belief

Discrimination based on religion and belief includes being treated differently because of your actual or perceived religious and philosophical beliefs. Individuals are also protected from discrimination based on a lack of religion or beliefs. An employer with a religious or belief-based ethos could restrict job opportunities to people of a certain religion or belief. This includes having occupation requirements based on religion or belief, such as hiring teachers of a specific religion at a faith-based school.

Marriage and Civil Partnership

Discrimination because you are married or in a civil partnership includes treating people differently because they are single, engaged, divorced, married, or in a civil partnership. This form of discrimination can also occur when individuals are treated differently for living as a couple when not in a marriage or civil partnership.

Developing an Equality Policy in your Workplace

Employers have a responsibility to develop an equality policy. It is also important to follow practices that prevent discrimination and promote equal opportunities. An equality policy should reaffirm a commitment to uphold the rights of all employees, including protecting workers against discrimination. It should also include details on employment, recruitment and training - as well as an outline of the mechanisms or procedures that can be used to make complaints.

The following are helpful resources for employers:
UK.GOV: Employers - Preventing Discrimination
UK.GOV: Equality Act 2010 - Guidance
Equality and Human Rights Commission: Equality Act
ACAS: Events on Equality, Diversity and the Equality Act 2010

Managing Workplace Issues

If an issue related to discrimination in the workplace arises, employers are responsible for dealing with the complaint and determining if there has been unlawful discrimination. If discrimination is proven, employers must find ways to resolve the issue. The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides advice and guidance on how to manage workplace issues related to discrimination, including making adjustments for disabled people and ensuring pay is equal for everyone.

Other helpful resources for managing workplace issues include:
Equality and Human Rights Commission: Dealing with Discrimination as an Employer
Equality and Human Rights Commission: Know Your Rights