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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Discrimination – what are your rights?

The law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. Find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you have been discriminated against.

Who is protected?

Discrimination can happen in many different ways but you have rights to protect you

By law people are protected from discrimination on the grounds of:

  • race
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • disability (or because of something connected with your disability)
  • religion or belief
  • being a transsexual person
  • having just had a baby or being pregnant
  • being married or in a civil partnership (this applies only at work or if someone is being trained for work)
  • age (this applies only at work or if someone is being trained for work)

These are known as ‘protected characteristics’.

Race discrimination

Wherever you were born, wherever your parents came from, whatever the colour of your skin, you have a right to be treated fairly.

Gender equality – sex discrimination

Women and men should not be treated unfairly because of their gender, because they are married or because they are raising a family.

Sexual orientation

Whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight should not put you at a disadvantage.

Disability discrimination

If you have a physical or mental impairment you have specific rights that protect you against discrimination.

Religion and belief

Your religion or belief, or those of somebody else, should not affect your right to be treated fairly. This could be at work, school, in shops or while using public services like health care.

Transgender discrimination

Trans people should be able to live with dignity. There are protections for some of the forms of discrimination that trans people experience.

Age equality

By law you cannot be treated less favourably in your workplace or in training for work because of your age. For example, it would be unlawful to not employ someone because of their age.

Types of discrimination

Discrimination comes in one or more of these four forms:

  • direct discrimination - when someone is treated less favourably than others in the same circumstances
  • indirect discrimination - when someone puts in place rules that apply to everyone, but put you at an unfair disadvantage because of your protected characteristic
  • harassment - unwanted or uninvited behaviour that is offensive, embarrassing, intimidating or humiliating
  • victimisation - when you are treated less favourably than someone else because you have complained about discrimination, or supported someone else who has

Where you are protected

You are protected from discrimination in the following situations:

  • at work
  • in education
  • as a consumer
  • when using public services

When discrimination is justifiable

There are some situations where discrimination is not illegal. One example of this is positive action.

Positive action

Positive action is when something is done to help someone who has a protected characteristic. Positive action can be taken because:

  • someone is at a disadvantage due to their protected characteristic
  • people with a protected characteristic have particular needs
  • people with a protected characteristic are under-represented in an activity or type of work


A new pharmacy opens in an area with a large Bangladeshi community. The manager decides to offer Asian men free blood sugar checks, because Asian men are at higher risk of diabetes.

Positive action is voluntary and people don’t have to consider doing it if they don’t want to.

Find out more about when discrimination may not be illegal by following the link below.

What can you do about discrimination?

If you believe someone has unlawfully discriminated against you, harassed or victimised you, there are three things you can do:

  • complain directly to the person or organisation
  • use someone else to help you sort it out (alternative dispute resolution)
  • make a claim in court

You don’t have to choose just one of these. Instead, you could try them in turn. If the first doesn’t work, you could try the second, and if that is also unsuccessful, you could make a claim in court.

If you have been discriminated against you should get advice from the EHRC about what to do next.

Helpline – England

Telephone: 0845 604 6610
Textphone: 0845 604 6620
Fax: 0845 604 6630

Helpline – Wales

Telephone: 0845 604 8810
Textphone: 0845 604 8820
Fax: 0845 604 8830

Helpline – Scotland
Telephone: 0845 604 5510
Textphone: 0845 604 5520
Fax: 0845 604 5530

Additional links

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