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Types of discrimination: definitions

Sep 29, 2010

Below you will find the definitions of the seven main areas of discriminatory behaviour detailed in the Equality Act 2010. In the next (November) issue of Equality Law Brief, we will bring you examples of discrimination for each definition. If you have any questions regarding these definitions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Direct Discrimination

Direct Discrimination occurs when someone is treated less favourably than another person because of a protected characteristic they have or are thought to have (see Perceptive Discrimination below), or because they associate with someone who has a protected characteristic (see Associative Discrimination below).

Associative Discrimination

This already applies to Race, Religion or Belief and Sexual Orientation. It is now extended to cover Age, Disability, Gender Reassignment and Sex. This is direct discrimination against someone because they associate with another person who possesses a protected characteristic.

Perceptive Discrimination

This already applies to Age, Race, Religion or Belief and Sexual Orientation. It is now extended to cover Disability, Gender Reassignment and Sex. This is direct discrimination against an individual because others think they possess a particular protected characteristic. It applies even if the person does not actually possess the characteristic.

Indirect Discrimination

This already applies to Age, Race, Religion or Belief, Sex, Sexual Orientation and Marriage and Civil Partnership. It is now extended to cover Disability and Gender Reassignment.

Indirect Discrimination can occur when you have a condition, rule, policy or even a practice in your organisation that applies to everyone but particularly disadvantages people who share a protected characteristic.


Harassment is "unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual's dignity or creating intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual".

Employees will now be able to complain of behaviour that they find offensive even if it is not directed at them, and the complainant need not possess the relevant characteristic themselves. Employees are also protected from harassment because of perception and association.

Third Party Harassment

This already applies to Sex. It is now expected to cover Age, Disability, Gender Reassignment, Race, Religion or Belief and Sexual Orientation.

The Equality Act makes you potentially liable for harassment of your employees by people (third parties) who are not employees of your company, such as customers or clients.


Victimisation occurs when an employee is treated badly because they have made or supported a complaint or raised a grievance under the Equality Act; or because they are suspected of doing so. The Equality Act amends the definition 'victimisation', so that no longer needs to point to a comparator.

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We are able to send you the full Equality Act and talk through with you (at no obligation) the main imperatives of the Act. We have also attached a 28-page summary of the Act (see below) to highlight your responsibilities and the responsibilities of your employees.

To obtain the Act in full, or to contact us for an informal and confidential discussion, please call 0845 0043513 or email info@equality-law.co.uk



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