Discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably for a reason related to a protected characteristic. These are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion (including faith, belief, or lack of), sex, and sexual orientation.

Discrimination can take many forms: 

Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination occurs when you treat a person less favourably than you treat (or would treat) another person because of a protected characteristic. This could be refusing to give someone a job because of their race or not admitting them on to a course because of their religious beliefs.

There are times where it is acceptable to treat someone differently. For example, reasonable adjustments put in place to support a student in an exam would not constitute direct discrimination against a student with no disability.

Direct discrimination can also take place based on association with someone with a protected characteristic, or it can be based on perception. In this case you do not need to have a particular protected characteristic to experience direct discrimination; it can occur, for example, if someone is treated less favourably because they have a partner who has undergone gender reassignment, or because a person is mistakenly thought to belong to a certain age group.

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination occurs when you apply a provision, criteria or practice in the same way for everyone, but this has the effect of putting people sharing a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage. It doesn’t matter that you did not intend to disadvantage that group.  What does matter is whether your action does or would disadvantage that group in some way, and it cannot be shown that the provision, criteria or practice is justified as a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. 

Discrimination arising from disability

Discrimination arising from disability occurs when you treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability and cannot justify such treatment.

Discrimination arising from disability is different from direct discrimination. Direct discrimination occurs because of the protected characteristic of disability. In cases of discrimination arising from disability, the reason for the treatment does not matter; the question is whether the disabled person has been treated unfavourably because of something connected with their disability (which could be the result, effect or outcome of that disability, such as an inability to walk unaided). 

Discrimination arising from disability is also different from indirect discrimination. There is no need to show that other people have been affected alongside the individual disabled person or for the disabled person to compare themselves with anyone else.

Find out more

  • Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) provide further information on the different types of discrimination and what is meant by ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

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