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. Applies to England and Wales.

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Terms you need to know


Term Meaning
Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)

ACAS is an organisation that provides information, advice, training, conciliation and other services for employers and employees to help prevent or resolve workplace problems.

ACAS offers a free Early Conciliation service. If you want to take a disability discrimination challenge against your employer at the Employment Tribunal, you have to contact ACAS first and you need proof that you have done so before you can start a claim.


An advocate is a person who can both listen to you and speak for you in times of need. Having an advocate can be helpful in situations where you are finding it difficult to make your views known, or to make people listen to them and take them into account. Find out more on our advocacy information page.


The Equality Act says that you have a disability if you have an impairment that is either physical or mental and the impairment has a substantial, adverse and long term effect on your normal daily activities.

Disability discrimination

This is when someone is treated worse because of their physical or mental health condition. The Equality Act explains:

  • what a disability is, and
  • when worse treatment is discrimination.

You have to show that you have a disability before you can challenge worse treatment as disability discrimination (unless the worse treatment was because your employer thinks you are disabled but you are not, or if the worse treatment was because of your association with a disabled person).


There are many situations in which you may feel treated unfairly because of your disability, but the Equality Act only covers these types of discrimination:

  • direct discrimination
  • discrimination arising from disability
  • indirect discrimination
  • harassment
  • victimisation
  • not complying with the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal decides disputes between employers and employees about employment rights. An Employment Tribunal is like a court but not always so formal.

Equality Act 2010

This is the law that explains:

  • what behaviour counts as unlawful discrimination
  • who has a right to challenge discrimination.

Occupational health

The job of an occupational health professional is to assess you to find out:

  • how your work impacts your health
  • if you are fit for the work you do
  • what adjustments may need to be made to support you at work

Your employer can refer you to occupational health if you have a physical or mental health problem that is affecting your work or causing you to take time off sick, particularly if this is more than 2 or 3 weeks at once.

If you disagree with their assessment, it is important to seek advice.

There is also a government-funded initiative called Fit for Work which provides occupational health assessments and expert advice. You can contact Fit for Work for work-related health advice.

Prohibited conduct

Prohibited conduct is the special term used in the Equality Act to cover behaviour that counts as unlawful. It covers discrimination, harassment, failure to make reasonable adjustments and victimisation.

Protected characteristics

'Protected characteristics' is the name for the nine personal characteristics that are protected by the Equality Act in certain situations. They are:

  • age
  • disability (this can include mental health problems)
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.
Reasonable adjustments

These are changes that employers should make for you if you are at a major disadvantage in your workplace because of your mental  health problems and it is reasonable. These include:

  • making changes to the way things are organised or done   
  • making changes to the built environment, or physical features like steps or doorways around you  
  • providing aids and services for you.


This information was published in March 2018. We will revise it in 2020.

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