Equal Opportunities in the Workplace

Discrimination comes in many forms. It can be direct, where you are treated less favourable than others. Discrimination can also be indirect when certain rules or arrangements for everyone places some people at a disadvantage. Discrimination also includes harassment and victimisation of individuals who have raised concerns about discrimination or harassment in the workplace. The Equality Act 2010 protects you from discrimination at work as well as in education, as a consumer, and when using public services. The 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 identification, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, disability, race, and religion and belief. 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 opportunities at work. Equal opportunities related to the idea that workers are entitled to and have access to an equal chance to apply and be chosen for positions, be trained and promoted, and have employment terminated fairly and equally. 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 you if you have complained about discrimination or supported someone's complaint or claim. There are also protections for fixed-term and part-time workers, who are protected against being treated unfairly when compared to permanent employees. You are also protected from unfair treatment due to your membership or non-membership in a trade union.


Race discrimination occurs when you are treated unfairly or differently because of their ethnic, racial or national background. Race includes someone's colour, ethnic and racial groups, national origins and nationality, and citizenship. Being treated differently because of race is permitted if belonging to a specific race is essential for a job or if an organisation is taking positive action to encourage or 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 where someone assumes you are or are not a specific age or in a certain age group. It also includes discrimination by association where you are connected to someone of a certain age or age group. This type of discrimination is lawful in certain circumstances, such as when age-based concessions or age verification is needed.

Sexual Orientation

You may not be discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, whether you are heterosexual, homosexual (gay or lesbian) or bisexual. You are also protected against discrimination when someone assumes your sexual orientation or you are connected to someone with a specific sexual preference. Discrimination based on sexual orientation may be lawful because of an occupation requirement, such as when employing staff for a help line that helps gay, lesbian and transgendered 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. You may not be discriminated against whether you have undergone gender reassignment. The law also protects against discrimination from someone who thinks you are transsexual or if you 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 includes mental and physical conditions, including a disability you 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 formats or Braille versions, and interview arrangements, such as 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 including 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 are not female or male. It also protects against discrimination because someone assumes you are the opposite sex or you are 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 religion or philosophical beliefs. You are also protected from discrimination because of a lack of religion or beliefs. An employer with a religion or belief based ethos could restrict job opportunity 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 civil partners. It also includes discrimination because someone is living as a couple but they are not married or civil partners.

Developing an Equality Policy in your Workplace

Employers have a responsibility to develop an equality policy. They must also follow practices that prevent discrimination and promote equal opportunities. An equality policy should reaffirm a commitment to upholding the rights of all employees, including protecting workers against discrimination. It should also include details on employment, recruitment and training. The policy should also outline mechanisms or procedures 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 determine 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