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Discrimination at work

Explains what laws protect you from discrimination at work, what you can do if you are discriminated against, and where you can get support and advice.

How might I be discriminated against at work?

There are six types of disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. This page gives some examples of how these might occur at work:

To find out more about each of these types of discrimination, see our information on disability discrimination.

If you are not happy with the way you have been treated at work, but your experience does not fit into these types of discrimination, you can check your other employment rights.

Examples of direct discrimination at work

  • Jon has bipolar disorder. He asks his employer if he can apply for a new post doing work he is able to do. His employer says he cannot apply because he has a mental health problem. This is an example of direct discrimination.
  • Minoo does not have any mental health problems but she looks after her aunt who has mental health problems. Her employer treats her worse because of this. This is direct discrimination – discrimination by association.
  • Najma does not have a mental health problem, but her employer treats her worse than her colleague because he thinks she has a mental health problem. This is likely to be direct discrimination – discrimination by perception.
  • Aidan applies for a job and finds that his last employers have supplied a reference which includes negative comments about his mental health problem. They have discriminated against Aidan, even though they no longer employ him, because the reference arises out of and is closely connected to their former employment relationship.

Example of discrimination arising from disability at work

Sid has depression. He has worked for 2 years for his employer who knows he has depression. Recently he has had two periods of absence because of his depression. His employer disciplines him because of the amount of absences he has had.

Sid has been treated worse not because of his disability but because of something arising out of his disability – the time he has taken off sick. This may be discrimination arising from Sid's disability.

But Sid's treatment will not be discrimination arising from disability if his employer can show that:

  • the treatment was for a good reason, and appropriate and necessary, or
  • they did not know or could not reasonably have known that Sid had a disability

Example of indirect discrimination at work

Sarah's employer decides that all staff must start a new shift pattern which involves working late in the evening. No staff can opt out. But Sarah takes medication for schizoaffective disorder which makes her feel very sleepy in the evenings, so she isn't able to work late shifts.

This is likely to be indirect discrimination as it puts Sarah at a disadvantage.

But it will not be discrimination if her employer is able to justify the arrangement by showing that it is:

  • for a good reason, and
  • appropriate and necessary.

Often something that is indirect discrimination is also something that gives rise to the duty to make reasonable adjustments. In this example Sarah's employer may be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments for Sarah, such as allowing her to remain on the existing shift pattern.

Example of harassment at work

Mary has an eating disorder. Mary's manager knows she has an eating disorder and she makes offensive remarks in the open plan office about people with anorexia. This is likely to be harassment.

Example of victimisation at work

Jibin's colleague has bipolar disorder. Jibin supports her colleague to complain to their employer about disability discrimination. After this, Jibin's manager refuses her promotion on the basis that her loyalty to the company is in question. This is likely to be victimisation.

Example of duty to make reasonable adjustments at work

Sylvie works in an office. She has depression and has been absent from work for several periods in the last couple of years because of this.

Her employer is having to making a number of staff redundant, and they want to consider absence levels when deciding who to make redundant.

This would put Sylvie at a substantial disadvantage compared to her colleagues, so it may be reasonable for Sylvie's employer to disregard her disability-related absences when making redundancy decisions.

Sylvie is also finding the uncertainty difficult to cope with and has become distressed at work. She is taking part in a supported employment scheme from the workplace mental health support scheme. Her employer lets her make private phone calls to her support worker in the working day as a reasonable adjustment.

Read more about reasonable adjustments you can ask for in the workplace.

This information was published in March 2018.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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