UK law prohibits discrimination and harassment on a number of different grounds in all facets of employment, including recruitment, contractual terms, working conditions, promotions, transfers, dismissals and training.

An employer must not discriminate against employees on the basis of sex, gender reassignment, marital or civil partner status, pregnancy or maternity, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and age.

Discrimination laws protect, among others, agency workers, freelance workers, consultants, partners and directors as well as employees (including former employees and applicants for employment).

Generally, discrimination can be split into four categories:

1. Direct
2. Indirect
3. Harassment
4. Victimisation

Direct discrimination is based on the concept of less favourable treatment. This is where a decision or action is taken because of a distinctive characteristic – e.g. preferring a male applicant to a female applicant.

Indirect discrimination occurs where a practice that appears to treat people equally nevertheless adversely affects some groups more than others. For example, where an employer insists on a wide mobility clause in its contract of employment, this could be interpreted as discriminating against women, as they are more likely to be the ‘second earner’ and therefore less able to relocate.
Harassment involves unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an offensive, intimidating or hostile environment.

Victimisation occurs where an individual is subjected to a detriment because he/she has threatened to bring discrimination proceedings, given evidence or information in connection with such proceedings, or makes some genuinely held allegation of discrimination. For example, a prospective new employer can be liable for victimisation if it refuses to employ someone who has given evidence against a previous employer in a discrimination case.