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It is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of one of the nine protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act 2010. These are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The Act also describes the various forms of unlawful discrimination - some of which apply to all the protected characteristics (such as direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation), and some of which only apply to specific protected characteristics, such as failing to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee.
Someone is directly discriminated against when they are treated less favourably by their employer because of a protected characteristic.
You don’t necessarily need to have a protected characteristic in order to be directly discriminated against because of it.
This applies to two forms of discrimination:
Direct discrimination can occur when an employer treats an employee less favourably because of a protected characteristic that the employee does not personally possess. This is commonly known as ‘discrimination by association’.
Associative discrimination could occur where a worker has a relationship with a parent, child, partner, carer or friend who has a protected characteristic. For example:
Discrimination by association doesn't apply to all protected characteristics. Marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity are not covered by the legislation.
Associative discrimination does not apply to instances of indirect discrimination (i.e. where a policy or practice of the employer puts employees with a certain protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage). It has to be based on direct discrimination.
The wide definition of direct discrimination also encompasses discrimination by perception. When someone is treated less favourably because others believe they have a protected characteristic, even though in reality they don't have it, it is perceptive discrimination.
For example, this might occur in the following ways:
These examples could be considered discrimination by perception, regardless of whether the job applicants really were of African descent or transgender.
Like associative discrimination, perceptive discrimination does not apply to the protected characteristic of marriage and civil partnership, nor pregnancy and maternity, and it must be in the form of direct discrimination.