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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What are the different types of discrimination?

If you want to complain that your employer discriminated against you because of your mental health problem, you have to show that what happened to you is one of these types of discrimination:

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

Examples of direct discrimination

  • 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

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

An employer decides that all staff must start a new shift system that involves working late in the evening. No staff can opt out. Sarah takes medication for schizoaffective disorder that makes her feel sleepy and she will not be able to take on a late shift.

This is likely to be indirect discrimination as it puts Sarah and anyone else with a mental health problem like this 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


Example of harassment

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

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

Sylvie is working in an office and has depression. 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.

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.


This information was published in September 2016. We will revise it in 2018.

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