13 August 2023

Dealing With Discrimination In The Workplace

Discrimination can occur when an individual has been treated unfairly based on a ‘protected characteristic’, these are set out in the Equality Act 2010.

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Dealing with discrimination in the workplace 

Discrimination can occur when an individual has been treated unfairly based on a ‘protected characteristic’, these are set out in the Equality Act 2010 as being: 

  • Sex 
  • Age 
  • Race 
  • Disability
  • Religion or belief 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Gender reassignment 
  • Marriage or civil partnership 
  • Pregnancy and maternity 

Any discrimination based on a protected characteristic is against the law, please refer to our article on the protected characteristics for further information. Discrimination can apply directly, with the unfair treatment relating directly to a protected characteristic (such as using a racial slur or denying someone a job or promotion because of one of the protected characteristics), or indirectly, such as a workplace policy unfairly affecting a group of employees because of their protected characteristic (for example a policy that everyone needs to work full time which would adversely affect women who are more likely to have caring responsibilities). 

Harassment and victimisation are also forms of discrimination. Harassment is any unwanted behaviour that makes a person feel uncomfortable, humiliated or mentally distressed. Victimisation occurs when someone faces negative treatment because they have reported discrimination or because they have supported someone to report discrimination. Discrimination could also be brought against an employer due to the actions of its employees if the employee discriminated against others whilst acting in the course of their employment. 

Policies and procedures 

There are steps that an employer can take to prevent a claim of discrimination and to improve equality within their organisation. This includes creating an equality policy, ensuring that all staff are aware of this policy and receive equality training. A grievance policy should also be created, which will outline how any reports of discrimination will be dealt with, all staff should receive training in respect of this policy so they are aware of how to bring any complaints to the employer and how they can expect any incidents to be dealt with. Anti-discrimination training would also be beneficial to minimise risks of the employer being held liable for discrimination arising from an employee’s actions. 

Employers in the public sector are obligated to comply with the requirements of the public sector equality duty. This duty requires employers to consider how they can stop discrimination, how they can ensure equality and how they can spread awareness on all the protected characteristics. In assessing these considerations, the public sector employer should also consider the needs of everyone in their workplace. A list of which employers must comply with this duty can be found at Schedule 19 of the Equality Act 2010. 


If you receive a complaint related to discrimination you should take any report seriously. You should follow your own grievance or disciplinary procedure (where appropriate) and do a thorough investigation to ascertain what has happened and take necessary steps. This may include taking disciplinary action against one of your employees, or requiring employees to attend further training. 

You can review our articles on how to handle disciplinary and grievance matters for further details here. 

Do you need more advice on discrimination in the workplace?

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0800 987 8156

Nicole Gibbs

Senior Associate (Solicitor)