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Discrimination at Work

There is no qualifying period for discrimination claims (the 2 year rule doesn't apply). Workers are protected from Direct Discrimination (less favourable treatment, Harassment (subjecting a worker to a hostile environment connected with eg: race or sex), and Victimisation (picking on a worker for raising rights).

Discrimination laws apply to: race, sex, sexual orientation, age, gender reassignment, religious/philosophical belief, disability and pregnancy

(‘Protected Characteristics’).

To bring a discrimination claim you need to present facts from which inferences of discrimination might be made. It's very helpful if you can prepare a chronology of the key events. Most claims must be brought within 3 months but the history (eg: examples of historic discriminatory conduct can help). We also need evidence in date order and details of any information your employer may hold. 

Discrimination rights relate to 'workers' in the broader sense such as contractors or temps and not just employees. 

Where an employee puts a strong 'case to answer' the burden of proving no discrimination shifts to the employer. 

It is normally best to use the Grievance Procedures first and not doing this can lead to a reduction in any tribunal award by up to 25%. These procedures also help to smoke out the issues and evidence earlier on should a tribunal claim be necessary. 

Awards for discrimination tend to be higher because there's no upper limit on lost earnings and they can include awards for stress and injury to feelings. 

Age Discrimination

Under the Equality Act 2010 employers must not discriminate against workers by treating them less favourably because of their age. This could be by making stereotypical assumptions- for example ‘older people are less inclined to change’- or assuming that an employee is going to want less pressure at work.
If an employer makes comments which are clearly discriminatory, establishing a case may be easier but normally a worker will have to establish facts from which inferences of discrimination may be drawn. These could include: exclusion from meetings or social events, withdrawing the better tasks and roles or patronising comments.

The factual basis for considering discrimination is very important. This requires tangible acts or omissions with dates and times and supporting evidence. These can then be put to an employer informally and then through a grievance or after a dismissal in a solicitor’s letter. Failure to offer a non-discriminatory explanation may then lead to a finding of age discrimination.
Age discrimination claims can lead to larger pay outs. There is no upper limit on compensation and a tribunal may well find that it is very difficult for an older worker to find another job. Injury to feelings tend to be at the higher end.

Disability Discrimination

Workers with serious medical problems may have protection under the Equality Act 2010. The starting point is to look at the medical condition. Not all medical conditions are a disability. The condition must have a substantial adverse effect on the worker’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities?

The Code of Practice offers guidance and makes it very clear that stereotypes and assumptions are to be avoided.

Disability rights include:

  • Reasonable adjustments- an employer must consider steps to help workers remain in employment. The adjustments have to be reasonable- proportionate and likely to work. Examples would include: seeking medical advice, changes to hours, adaptions to work stations or even changes to performance procedures.


  • Direct discrimination- an employee must not be treated less favourably than other non-disabled workers because of their protected characteristic (eg: sex, race or disability) . This normally requires a comparator- a worker in a similar position but sometimes a hypothetical comparator is accepted.


  • Victimisation- a worker who raises issues about disability related rights must not be subject to detriments.


  • Discrimination arising from disability- this is a more recent right and protects employees from discrimination for things connected with the disability such as the need to take time off for medical appointments.


Disability cases can result in high value awards because it tends to be harder for disabled workers to find another job and stress can often make the condition worse.

Pregnancy discrimination

Employers are under positive duties to protect employees who are pregnant for example by making sure the working environment does not harm the health of the mother or child.

A number of our cases have involved women whose employers have wrongly asserted that their job is ‘redundant’ when in fact the role has been given to another person.

It is important not to make assumptions or stereotype women who are or who become pregnant. Awards of compensation can be higher because this is discrimination and can also include an amount for ‘injury to feelings’ or ‘aggravated damages’ (for example by failing to investigate allegations of discrimination).

Race & Religious Discrimination

Race and religious belief are both protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

Employers who treat workers (not just employees) less favourably because of race or religious belief might be discriminating.

Workers who raise concerns about related legal rights must not be subject to detriments as this can amount to victimisation.

With these types of cases, an unbiased and fair investigation is very important. Where the worker is still employed a prompt and meaningful apology and training on equal opportunities can be all that is required.

Employers who take these steps can also have a defence to discrimination claims known as the ‘reasonable steps’ defence.

Sex Discrimination

Employees must not be treated less favourably because of their sex. Examples of cases we have dealt with have included:

  • Allocation of jobs under the ‘old boys’ network’
  • Sexual harassment- unwanted or degrading behaviour at work
  • Dismissal of a senior banker in circumstances where the same facts applied to a male colleague

With all discrimination claims, the worker must set out primary facts from which inferences of discrimination may be drawn. It is unlikely that clear evidence of discrimination will be available but if the circumstances of the person complaining against can be compared with another employee (usually a female compared to a male) and there is no ‘innocent explanation’ that is normally all that is required.

Workers should normally use the employer’s grievance procedures first.

Discrimination awards tend to be higher because of injury to feelings can be compensated. 

Contact Our Expert Discrimination Solicitors in Canary Wharf, London & Manchester

If you require advice and assistance regarding discrimination claims in the workplace, we can help. Call us or fill in our form now and take the first step to resolving your issue:

London: 020 7247 7190 | Manchester: 0161 883 1255 | Birmingham: 0121 663 1191

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