Core guidance: Career development - training promotion and transfer

Are you a worker?

This guide calls you a worker if you are working for someone else (who this guide calls your employer) in a work situation. Most situations are covered, even if you don't have a written contract of employment or if you are a contract worker rather than an employee. Other types of worker such as trainees, apprentices and business partners is also covered. If you are not sure, check under 'work situation' in the Glossary. Sometimes, equality law only applies to particular types of worker, such as employees, and we make it clear if this is the case.

Protected characteristics

Make sure you know what is meant by:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

These are known as protected characteristics.

View a detailed list of the protected characteristics

What is unlawful discrimination?

Unlawful discrimination can take a number of different forms: 

  • Your employer must not treat you worse than another worker because of a protected characteristic (this is called direct discrimination). 

    For example:

    An employer does not consider someone to be suitable for a promotion just because they are a disabled person.
  • If you are a woman who is pregnant or on maternity leave, the test is not whether you are treated worse than someone else, but whether you are treated unfavourably from the time you tell your employer you are pregnant to the end of your maternity leave (which equality law calls the protected period) because of your pregnancy or a related illness or because of maternity leave.
  • Your employer must not do something which has (or would have) has a worse impact on you and other people who share your particular protected characteristic than on people who do not have the same characteristic. Unless your employer can show that what they have done, or intend to do, is objectively justified, this will be indirect discrimination. ‘Doing something’ can include making a decision, or applying a rule or way of doing things. 

    For example: 

    An employer only allows workers who work full-time to apply for promotion. This has a worse impact on women workers, who are more likely to work part-time. Unless the employer can objectively justify the requirement to work full-time, this is very likely to be indirect discrimination because of sex.

If you are a disabled person, your employer must not treat you unfavourably because of something connected to your disability where they cannot show that what they are doing is objectively justified. This only applies if they know or could reasonably be expected to know that you are a disabled person. This is called discrimination arising from disability.

For example:

An employer who runs a fashion store turns down a worker who is a disabled person for a promotion to a customer-facing role, even though she is well-qualified for the job. The worker is a person of restricted growth and very few of the clothes the store sells fit her, which means she could not meet the requirement the employer has that shop staff should wear the clothes the store sells. The worker has been treated unfavourably (not getting the promotion) because of something arising from her disability (that she cannot wear standard sized clothing). This is almost certainly discrimination arising from disability unless the employer can objectively justify the requirement to wear particular clothes. This may also be a failure to make a reasonable adjustment.

  • Your employer must not treat you worse than another worker because you are associated with a person who has a protected characteristic. 

    For example:

    An employer does not ask a worker if they would like to go on a training course because they know the worker has a disabled partner who they assist in day-to-day tasks like washing and dressing. The employer assumes the worker would not want to be away from home for a longer than usual working day, which is what the training would involve. However, the worker should still be asked if they want to go on the course. Instead, they have been excluded from this opportunity. This is very likely to be direct discrimination because of disability.
  • Your employer must not treat you worse than another worker because they incorrectly think you have a protected characteristic (perception).

For example:

An employer does not offer a worker a chance of a promotion because they think the worker is gay, even though they are not, and they do not think other workers would like to be managed by them. This is likely to be direct discrimination because of sexual orientation. 

  • Your employer must not treat you badly or victimise you because you have complained about discrimination or helped someone else complain or have done anything to uphold your own or someone else’s equality law rights.

For example: 

An employer does not offer a worker training. This is because last year the worker supported a colleague in a complaint that she had been harassed at work. If the previous complaint is the reason for the failure to give the worker the assessment, this is likely to be victimisation.

  • Your employer must not harass you.

For example: 

An employer makes someone who is being interviewed for promotion feel humiliated by telling jokes about their religion or belief during the interview.

In addition, if you are a disabled person, to make sure that you have the same access, as far as is reasonable, to everything that is involved in getting and doing a job as a non-disabled person, your employer must make reasonable adjustments.

For example:

A suitably qualified and experienced disabled worker who has an impairment which affects their hand and arm mobility is promoted to a position where they need to word process documents. Their employer provides them with assistive technology to help with this part of the role. While they are waiting for the technology to be installed, the employer arranges for a temporary audio typist to assist them instead.

You can read more about reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people.

More information

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