What is Direct Discrimination?

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis


24 Aug 2018


According to the Equality Act 2010, direct discrimination is when: “A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if, because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others.”

This guide examines what your business must keep in mind to avoid such issues, along with how to celebrate diversity and help all your employees feel welcome at your business.

What are the Protected Characteristics?

  1. Age.
  2. Disability.
  3. Gender reassignment.
  4. Marriage and civil partnership.
  5. Pregnancy and maternity.
  6. Race.
  7. Religion and belief.
  8. Sex.
  9. Sexual orientation.

All of your employees have their own set of protected characteristics, and a person might not have all nine.

However, if someone thinks you have one of these characteristics and treats you less favourably than they would treat others, they’re committing direct discrimination by perception.

Pregnant employees have greater protection than anyone else. Rather than protection from less favourable treatment, they have protection from unfavourable treatment.

What this means is that a pregnant employee doesn’t need to compare her treatment to the treatment of someone else when raising a complaint about direct discrimination.

Direct Discrimination Examples

Some ways that an employer might commit direct discrimination in the workplace due to a protected characteristic include:

  • Dismissing someone.
  • Rejecting a job candidate.
  • Refusing training for someone.
  • Denying somebody a promotion.
  • Giving an employee less favourable terms and conditions.

Some examples specific to particular characteristics include:

  • Changing the conditions of someone’s employment, such as their job duties, following a gender reassignment.
  • Choosing an employee for redundancy after finding out that they have a mental or physical health condition that counts as a disability.
  • Counting a pregnant woman’s absence from work due to morning sickness towards absence trigger points.

Promote Equality in Your Workplace

Your policies on equality and discrimination in your workplace should include your zero tolerance for discrimination, a list of the protected characteristics, and even some examples of different types of discrimination.

Promote equality and expect it from all of your staff, including yourself and all members of management. As an employer, you have a duty to protect your staff from discrimination of any kind.

If you’re aware of an allegation of discrimination, you must investigate it and follow a fair disciplinary procedure, such as that in line with the Acas Code of Practice.

The Difference Between Direct and Indirect Discrimination

We now know what direct discrimination is. You treat someone differently and less favourably because of a protected characteristic.

Indirect discrimination works in the opposite way. It’s when you treat someone the same as everyone else, but it has a negative effect on them.

Here’s our guide to indirect discrimination.

What is Victimisation?

The Equality Act 2010 explains that victimisation is when someone receives detrimental treatment for raising a grievance (complaint) about discrimination against them or someone else, or helping someone else who is suffering from discrimination.

Victimisation is, of course, unlawful. A person has protection from victimisation when they:

  • Make a claim or complaint of discrimination.
  • Give evidence or information to assist someone else who has made a claim or complaint.
  • Say that someone has done something unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

Talk to an Expert

Direct discrimination is a serious matter that can leave an employee feeling embarrassed, intimidated, and shamed—and it can severely damage your company’s reputation and finances, too.

For help regarding cases of direct discrimination, contact Croner’s employment law experts today on 0808 145 3378.

About the Author

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is the senior manager of the Litigation and Employment Department and assumes additional responsibility for managing Croner’s office based telephone HR advisory teams, who specialise in Employment law, HR and Commercial Legal advice for large organisations across the United Kingdom.


Andrew Willis

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