Age discrimination is where you’re treated unfairly because of your age or because you’re part of a particular age group, for example under 30s, young adults or pensioners.
Children and young people under 18 are only protected against age discrimination in relation to work and only gives adults (18 and over) full legal protection. However children and young people must be considered in public sector decision making through compliance with the public sector equality duty.
Age remains the only protected characteristic that allows employers to discriminate because of a person’s age as long as the employer can evidence justification for the reason for discrimination. Less favourable treatment of a person because of their age is not discrimination if the employer can demonstrate that it is objectively justified and proportionate.
An employer can never justify harassment or victimisation.
It is unlawful to treat someone less favourably because of someone else’s age - parent, child, partner, colleague or friend. This is called discrimination by association.
You must not treat someone worse than you treat others because of what you think the person’s age is. This is called discrimination by perception.
Further details regarding objective justification can be found on the Exemptions dropdown on the Types of discrimination page.
The Act protects against disability discrimination, either because of the disability itself or because of something connected to that disability. It defines somebody as disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
Some conditions however, such as cancer, HIV infection, AIDS, MS and severe disfigurement are automatically regarded as disabilities. Other progressive conditions would be considered a disability as soon as their symptoms manifest themselves. People registered as blind or partially sighted are also automatically regarded as disabled under the Act.
Lifestyle choices that result in conditions such as alcoholism, obesity or illicit drug addiction are not covered but any other conditions that manifest as a result of addiction (for example, liver disease) may be.
Further information on the definition of disability can be found online.
Disabled people can be treated more favourably because of their disability than non-disabled people. The Act places a duty on an employer or a service provider to make reasonable adjustments which aims to create equal access and opportunity for disabled people. For employees, this may include providing text reading software to help a visually impaired person, providing an adjustable desk to assist a wheelchair user or creating a quiet working environment for an autistic person.
Knowledge of disability
An employer must know about an employee’s disability to evaluate whether a provision, criterion or practice puts the employee at a substantial disadvantage, and to make reasonable adjustments.
Where the employee claims discrimination arising from the disability or failure to make reasonable adjustments or discrimination arising from the disability it is important they can show that the employer knew, or would have reasonably been expected to know (constructive knowledge) of the disability.
It is generally the responsibility of the disabled employee to inform that an adjustment is needed.
During the recruitment process, if a reasonable adjustment is required in order to participate in an application process or to perform essential job functions, the employer should be informed that an adjustment will be needed.
More information on disability discrimination in employment and reasonable adjustments is available in the Code of Practice on Employment 2019.
The reasonable adjustment duty placed on service providers towards disabled people is an anticipatory one. This means that service providers need to consider the requirements of each disabled customer that may come to use their service. Disabled people are a diverse group with different requirements for example, people with dementia, visual or mobility impairments may face different types of barriers.
It is unlawful to treat someone less favourably because of someone else’s disability - parent, child, partner, colleague or friend. This is called discrimination by association.
You must not treat someone worse than you treat others because you think that person is disabled and discriminate against them on that basis. This is called discrimination by perception.
The Act provides protection for transgender people. A transgender person is someone who proposes to, starts or has completed a process to change his or her gender. A person is not required to be under medical supervision to be protected – so a woman who decides to live as a man but does not undergo any medical procedures would be covered.
It is discriminatory to treat a transgender employee less favourably for being absent from work because they propose to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment. An employer must not treat them any differently than it would if they were absent because they were ill or injured.
It is unlawful to treat someone less favourably because they are connected - parent, child, partner, colleague or friend – to a transgender person. This is called discrimination by association.
You must not treat someone worse than you treat others because you think that person is transgender and discriminate against them on that basis. This is called discrimination by perception.
Marriage and civil partnership
The Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds that an individual is legally married or in a civil partnership.
The provisions however only protect those who are married or in a civil partnership in the workplace.
The Act applies to all aspects of employment, including recruitment, terms and conditions of employment, training, promotions and transfers, dismissals, redundancy and retirement; and it applies to contract workers, apprentices, partners of firms and anyone in vocational training as well as employees.
Marriage can either be between a man and a woman, or between partners of the same sex. Civil partnership is between partners of the same sex.
Single people and couples not in a legally recognised relationship are not protected. This includes those who are engaged to be married but not married; and those who are divorced or a person whose civil partnership has been dissolved.
Protected characteristic of marriage and civil partnership is not protected directly under the harassment provisions.
Pregnancy and maternity
The Act protects women who are treated less favourably because they are pregnant, have recently given birth or breastfeeding. The protected period begins when pregnancy begins and ends. The length of time a woman is protected is different between work cases and outside work cases. For outside work cases the protected period during maternity is for 26 weeks. For work cases, this may be between 2 weeks and 52 weeks depending on the statutory entitlement and the return to work date.
More information about maternity rights in work cases is available on the Maternity and Related Rights page.
To determine whether someone has been discriminated against because of their pregnancy or maternity will be whether they have been treated unfairly because of:
- a pregnancy-related illness
- being on compulsory maternity leave or
- because of exercising or seeking (or have) the right to maternity leave
There is no obligation to inform an employer of a pregnancy until 15 weeks before the baby is due. However if an employer is unaware of the pregnancy then there can be no claim for pregnancy discrimination. If the employer treats someone unfavourably because they believe or suspect an employee is pregnant, such as through a rumour, this could amount to pregnancy discrimination.
If someone thinks they have been treated less favourably because of pregnancy or maternity leave after the protection period has expired, this may amount to sex discrimination, depending on the circumstances such as breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding mothers are protected against discrimination during and after the protected period. The protection extends for the period that the mother breastfeeds her baby however after 26 weeks it would be sex discrimination rather than pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Unlike other protected characteristics, a comparator is not required to claim direct pregnancy and maternity discrimination. All that is required is evidence of unfavourable treatment because of pregnancy and maternity. However this does not apply to sex discrimination and therefore a mum breastfeeding after 26 weeks would need a comparator to show she was being treated less favourably.
It is important to note that the protected characteristic of pregnancy and maternity has no protection from discrimination by association or perception.
The protected characteristic of pregnancy and maternity is not protected directly under the harassment provisions.
The Equality Act protects individuals on the grounds of their race. Race is an umbrella term which covers:
- colour, e.g. black, brown or white
- ethnic origin – an ethnic group is a group who share the same history and cultural traditions e.g. Sikhs, Jews and Romany Gypsies
- national origin - connection to a country or nation through birth, e.g. Welsh and Irish
- nationality - citizenship or membership of a particular nation
It’s also unlawful to be discriminated against because you belong to a certain racial group. People who share the same colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins are part of the same racial group.
It is unlawful to treat someone less favourably because of someone else’s race. This is called discrimination by association.
It is unlawful for someone to wrongly think that a person belongs to a certain racial group even though they don’t. This is called discrimination by perception.
Religion or belief
In the Equality Act, it is unlawful to treat someone unfairly because of their religion, religious or philosophical belief. Religion includes any religion. It also includes any denomination or sect within a religion. It also includes a lack of religion such as aetheism. Therefore it offers protection for those who do not follow a certain religion or who follow no religion at all. A religion must have a clear structure and belief system to fall within the scope of the Act.
Belief means both religious and philosophical beliefs and a lack of such belief. A belief must have a substantial effect on an individual’s way of life. Environmentalism and veganism may both be examples of belief systems.
It is unlawful to treat someone less favourably because of someone else’s – parent, friend, child, relative - religion or belief. This is called discrimination by association.
It is unlawful for someone to wrongly think that a person belongs to a certain religious group or holds a particular belief. This is called discrimination by perception.
Harassment related to religion or belief is prohibited only in relation to employment.
The Equality Act protects individuals from discrimination based on their sex – being either man or woman. It is also unlawful for a woman to discriminate against another woman because of her sex, and for a man to discriminate against another man because of his sex. It also applies at any age so boys and girls are also protected.
The protected characteristic of sex does not include gender reassignment or sexual orientation as these are protected in their own right.
It is unlawful to treat someone less favourably because you are connected - parent, child, partner, colleague or friend – to someone of a particular sex. This is called discrimination by association.
If an individual is presumed to be the opposite sex and is treated unfairly because of this, this is called discrimination by perception.
If you have been discriminated against because you’re a transgender person, this would be 'unlawful discrimination because of gender reassignment' not sex - view the dropdown entitled 'Gender reassignment' above.
The Act protects people who are romantically or sexually attracted to other people of their own or opposite sex, or to people of either sex. The Act also protects people who are not romantically or sexually attracted to anyone of either sex but includes how someone chooses to express their sexual orientation, such as through appearance or the places they visit.
It is unlawful to treat someone less favourably because of someone else’s - parent, child, partner or friend - sexual orientation. This is called discrimination by association.
If someone thinks you have a particular sexual orientation that you do not have and treats you unfairly because of this, this is called discrimination by perception.
Harassment related to sexual orientation is prohibited only in relation to employment.
Sexual orientation is different from gender reassignment. If you’ve been treated unfairly because you’re a transsexual person, this is unlawful discrimination because of gender reassignment - see the 'Gender reassignemt' dropdown above. But, if the reason you’re treated unfairly is because- for example, you’re gay, it’s discrimination because of sexual orientation.