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Rights and conditions
02 November 2016
If you feel that you have suffered discrimination then you should seek advice from ATL. The matter should be raised with your employer either by you, or by your representative.

Hopefully the problem will be resolved with your employer, either informally, or through the grievance procedure. If that is not possible, then a case may need to be brought against the employer in an Employment Tribunal. A case must be presented to an Employment Tribunal within three months of the alleged act of discrimination.

The Equality Act 2010

Discrimination legislation was first introduced in the 1970s and over time different types of discrimination became unlawful. The Equality Act 2010 consolidated all the existing anti-discrimination legislation. Whilst it did not radically change the legal protections already in place, it did introduce some new concepts and broaden the range of those who are protected.

Protected characteristics

Protected characteristics (also referred to as equalities strands) are those characteristics that must not form the basis of any discriminatory act.

Who’s Protected?


Age discrimination means you’re treated unfairly because of your age or because you’re part of a particular age group.


It’s unlawful to treat someone unfairly because they have or have had a disability. Under the Equality Act 2010, a person has a disability if they have or have had a physical or mental impairment which has had a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. One of the key concepts of the Equality Act 2010 is Reasonable Adjustments

Gender reassignment

Gender reassignment can be described as the process of transitioning from one gender to another. The Act makes it against the law to treat someone unfairly because they are considering transitioning, in the process of transitioning, or have transitioned.

We use the term transgender as an umbrella term to describe people whose gender identity is different than the gender assigned to them at birth.

You don’t need to have had any specific treatment, surgery, or to have a Gender Recognition Certificate to be considered transgender or to be protected by the act. Changing your physiological or other gender attributes is a personal process rather than a medical one.

Marriage and civil partnership

People who are married or in civil partnerships are protected by the Act. People living together, single people, people who are engaged or intend to marry or enter into a civil partnership are not protected.

The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate, or treat employees unfavourably because they are pregnant, have given birth recently, are breastfeeding, or on maternity leave.

Pregnancy and maternity

The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate, or treat employees unfavourably because they are pregnant, have given birth recently, are breastfeeding, or on maternity leave. Find out more


Protects groups of people defined by their colour, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origins.

Religion and belief

Protects people against discrimination because of their religious or philosophical beliefs. This also includes lack of belief. A belief needs to affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.


Protects men and women against discrimination. Inter-sex people are not explicitly protected from discrimination, but you cannot be discriminated against because of your gender or perceived gender.

Sexual orientation

Protects people of all sexual orientations against discrimination.


What is discrimination?

Discrimination covers four main areas or actions, namely:

  • Direct discrimination – less favourable treatment of an individual because of a protected characteristic.
  • An individual can also be directly discriminated against if an employer mistakenly thinks a worker has one of the protected characteristics or treats the individual less favourably because of his/her association with another person who has a protected characteristic. (Although discrimination by perception and association do not apply to pregnancy and maternity or marriage and civil partnership.)
  • Indirect discrimination – a policy or condition applies to everyone, but people with a certain protected characteristic cannot comply with it and the individual cannot comply with it because of that protected characteristic. Example: A school adopts a policy that all teachers must work full time. As it is women who usually have responsibility for childcare, women are significantly more disadvantaged by this policy than men. If a female teacher cannot work full time because of childcare that may amount to indirect sex discrimination.
  • Harassment – unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic that violates a person's dignity or creates an intimidating or hostile atmosphere (there is also a separate definition of sexual harassment).
  • Victimisation – the unfair treatment of an individual who has made a complaint about discrimination.

Disability discrimination

Disability discrimination is slightly different in that there are two additional sections of the Equality Act that apply to people who are disabled only.

  • Discrimination arising from disability – unfavourable treatment of a person because of something arising as a consequence of their disability. Example: A teacher is being treated for cancer and is in severe pain. One day he loses his temper at work and is disciplined. It may be unfavourable treatment because the loss of temper is a consequence of his disability.
  • Duty to make reasonable adjustments – an employer must make reasonable adjustments if a provision, physical feature or lack of auxiliary aid places a disabled individual at a substantial disadvantage.
  • Some examples of reasonable adjustments can be found here.


Direct age discrimination and all strands of indirect discrimination can be justified if the employer can show that the act (or failure to act) is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.


The Equality Act also places obligations on educational establishments and local authorities not to discriminate harass or victimise prospective students or students at the establishment.

Section 149 of the Equality Act states:

"A public authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regards to the need to:

(a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;

(b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;

(c) foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it."

This duty applies to various educational bodies – including maintained schools. A full list can be found here.

The law relating to discrimination is extremely complex. This page provides a very simple overview and is not a substitute for taking advice.

See below for the advice options ATL offers.

Further information and guidance can be found on the Equality & Human Rights Commission's website and the AOC agreements may also provide you with some useful information.

See also