Discrimination claims need to be brought within three months of the act of discrimination and can be brought whilst you are still employed.
The Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1 October 2010 and unified the law on discrimination. The act covers four main types of discrimination (direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation) and nine protected characteristics (age, disability, marriage and civil partnership, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation).
There are two further types of discrimination that relate to disabled employees that could occur if your employer fails to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate your disability or treats you less favourably because of a reason arising from your disability.
If you have received less favourable treatment at work due to any of the above protected characteristics, it is likely that you have been discriminated against. It doesn’t matter if the protected characteristic does not apply to you, the law can now also help you if a family member, friend or co-worker possesses the characteristic, but you suffer less favourable treatment as a result (for example, you receive less favourable treatment because your son is homosexual).
This occurs if you are treated less favourably because you possess one of the protected characteristics. For example, if you were not offered a job because of your age, it is likely that you will have suffered direct age discrimination.
Indirect discrimination occurs when a provision, criterion or practise (working condition or rule) places you at a disadvantage compared to other employees who do not have the same protected characteristic. For example, it could be indirect sex discrimination against a woman if her employer insisted that all staff must work full time rotating shift patterns, as statistically, more women than men have childcare responsibilities and have to work part time or regular hours. Such discrimination is likely to be unlawful unless your employer can show it was justified.
This is unwanted conduct of a physical or verbal nature which has the effect or purpose of creating an offensive, degrading or intimidating atmosphere, which typically humiliates or injures the target of the harassment. Even if the comments aimed at you were not intended to make you feel harassed, if it had this effect then you could potentially have a claim.
Such behaviour is prohibited in the workplace, but an employer’s duty not to allow harassment of employees can also extend to social occasions, such as the office Christmas party. Harassment covers issues such as racial abuse or unwanted sexual advances.
Victimisation is treating an employee less favourably than others because they have made, or intend to make, a complaint about discrimination. This could cover, for example, your employer subjecting you to unfair disciplinary proceedings as a result of raising a grievance about less favourable treatment because of your race.
Disability Discrimination – Failure to Make Reasonable Adjustments
You could be disabled for the purpose of the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long term adverse effect on your ability to carry out your normal day to day activities. If you have HIV, cancer or multiple sclerosis, or certain serious visual impairments, you are automatically classed as having a disability.
If you satisfy this definition and your disability puts you at a substantial disadvantage in the workplace, your employer is under a legal obligation to make “reasonable adjustments” to accommodate your disability, either to the physical premises or working practices. A failure to do this by your employer may give grounds for a claim.
Discrimination Arising from a Disability
Under the Equality Act, you could have a claim if you are treated unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of a disability, if the treatment is not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, if you had severe dyslexia and were dismissed because your work output was lower than your non-disabled colleagues, this would potentially be discriminatory. Your employer must be aware, or should reasonably have been aware, that you had a disability for this claim to succeed.
You could be suffering discrimination under the Equal Pay Act 1970 if you are a woman and your pay or conditions are less favourable than your counterparts of the opposite sex, as long as you are doing the same or similar work, work of the same value or work rated as equivalent in a job evaluation study carried out by your employer. An equal pay claim must be brought within six months of the termination of your employment and can be backdated up to six years.