The Equality Act 2010 covers the following types of discrimination:
- Direct discrimination: Direct discrimination occurs when someone is treated less favourably than another person because of a protected characteristic that they have.
- Discrimination by association: Discrimination by association is a form of direct discrimination, occurring when someone is treated less favourably than another person because they associate with someone who has a protected characteristic.
- Discrimination by perception: Discrimination by perception is a form of direct discrimination, occurring when someone is treated less favourably than another person because they are thought to have a protected characteristic. It applies even if the person does not actually possess that characteristic.
- Indirect discrimination: Indirect discrimination occurs when a provision, criterion or practice is neutral on the face of it, but its impact particularly disadvantages people with a protected characteristic, unless the person applying the provision can justify it as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
- Harassment: The Equality Act 2010 outlines three types of harassment (section 26): unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the complainant, or violating the complainant’s dignity (this applies to all the protected characteristics apart from pregnancy and maternity and marriage and civil partnership); unwanted conduct of a sexual nature where this has the same purpose or effect as the first type of harassment (sexual harassment); treating a person less favourably than another person because they have either submitted to, or did not submit to, sexual harassment or harassment related to sex or gender reassignment. People are also protected from harassment if they are perceived to have, or associate with someone with, a protected characteristic.
The perceptions of the recipient of the harassment are very important and harassment can have been deemed to have occurred even if the intention was not present, but the recipient felt that they were being harassed. Courts and tribunals will continue to be required to balance competing rights on the facts of a particular case in determining the effect of the unwanted conduct. This could include balancing the rights of freedom of expression (as set out in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and academic freedom against the right not to be offended in deciding whether a person has been harassed.
- Victimisation: Victimisation occurs when an employee is treated badly because they have made or supported a complaint under the Equality Act, or they are suspected of doing so. Victimisation (section 27) takes place where a person treats another less favourably because he or she has asserted their legal rights in line with the Act, has helped someone else to do so, or is suspected of doing so or intending to do so.
For more information, please visit the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) website.