What is Discrimination?

Discrimination means treating someone worse than other people because of who they are.

With regard to legislation, the Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics - the protected characteristics.

There are nine protected characteristics:

Race Expand

This includes colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins

Age Expand

Where this is referred to, it refers to a person belonging to a particular age (e.g 56 years old) or a range of ages (e.g 18-30 year olds).

Disability Expand

A person has a disability if s/he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out normal day to day activities.

For the purposes of the Act, these words have the following meanings:

Substantial means more than minor or trivial.

Long-term means that the effect of the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least twelve months (there are special rules covering recurring or fluctuating conditions).

Gender Reassignment Expand

If the person proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person's sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

Marriage and Civil Partnership Expand

Marriage is defined as a 'union between a man and a woman'. Same-sex couples can have their relationships legally recognised as 'civil partnerships'. Civil partners must be treated the same as married couples on a wide range of issues.

Pregnancy and Maternity Expand

Pregnancy is the condition of being pregnant or expecting a baby. Maternity refers to the period after the birth, and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context. In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth. This includes treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding. This protective characteristic also covers adoption leave.

Religion or Belief Expand

This also includes lack of religion or belief. Religion has the meaning usually given to it but belief includes religious and philosophical beliefs, including lac of belief (i.e Atheism). Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.

Sex Expand

This refers to a man or woman.

Sexual Orientation Expand

This refers to a person's sexual orientation towards persons of the same sex (homosexual), persons of the opposite sex (heterosexual) or persons of either sex (bisexual).

Six Types of Discrimination Expand

There are six types of discrimination - Click Expand to see what these are.


Where someone is treated less favourably than another person because of a protected characteristic.


Associative Discrimination:

This is direct discrimination against someone because they are associated with another person who possesses a protected characteristic.

Discrimination by Perception:

This is direct discrimination against someone because others think that they possess a particular characteristic. They do not necessarily have to possess the chraracteristic, just be perceived / thought to.


This can occur when you have a rule or policy that applies to everyone but disadvantages a person with a particular protected characteristic.


This is behaviour that is deemed offensive by the recipient. In employment, employees are able to complain about behaviour they find offensive even if it is not directed at them.


This occurs when someone is treated badly because they have made or supported a complaint or grievance under the Equality Act 2010.


The Act prohibits employers from discriminating against disabled employees because of something arising in consequence of that disability.

An employee must simply establish that unfavourable treatment is because of something connected with their disability. 

Report Discrimination / Hate Crime

This page provides you with more information about hate crime and links to Race Equality First's hate crime resources. 

What is Discrimination?

Discrimination means treating someone worse than other people because of who they are.