Core guidance: Pay and benefits

Don't forget that specific rules apply to equal pay between women and men where pay or benefits are part of your contract of employment. If the reason for a difference in pay or benefits is or might be the your sex, in other words, the fact that you are a man or a woman, you should read decisions about pay and benefits for women and men (equal pay) to understand what the rules are.

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 a worker directly employed by your employer. 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 list of words and key ideas. 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 just because of a protected characteristic (this is called direct discrimination).

For example:

An employer is deciding how much to pay two trainees who are starting work. Both trainees will be doing the same job. If the employer decided to pay one of the trainees less because they were a disabled person, this would almost certainly be unlawful discrimination because of disability.

  • 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) a worse impact on you and on other people who share your particular protected characteristic than on people who do not have that protected 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 provides a company car only to workers for whom insurance costs are below a certain limit. Because insurance costs for younger drivers are generally higher, this may mean that younger workers are not eligible for a company car. Unless the employer can objectively justify their company car policy, this may be indirect discrimination because of age.

  • 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 your employer knows or could reasonably have been expected to know that you are a disabled worker. This is called discrimination arising from disability.

For example:

An employer gives workers a bonus if they have not taken more than three days off sick in the previous year. They do not separately record time off for sickness and time off for medical appointments taken by disabled people. A worker who is a newly disabled person because of an amputation has to attend a clinic once a month to have their prosthetic leg checked. They have to take half a day’s leave each time and this has been recorded as six days’ sickness absence over the course of the year. Unless the employer can objectively justify using sickness absence as a test for whether workers receive the bonus, this is likely to be discrimination arising from disability, as the disabled worker has been treated unfavourably (not receiving the bonus) for a reason connected with or arising from their disability (the need for time off for the appointments).

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

For example:

A small chain of fast food restaurants gives staff with children vouchers so that they can take their children for cheap meals. One member of staff has a disabled child and does not receive the vouchers because their manager assumes that the child will not be able to go to the restaurant. This is probably direct discrimination because of disability by association.

  • Your employer must not treat you worse than another worker because they incorrectly think you have a protected characteristic (perception).

For example:

An employer assumes that an Asian member of staff is a Muslim and does not offer her an opportunity to go on a residential training course because they assume that she will not want to stay away overnight in a mixed sex environment. She is not Muslim but has been denied an opportunity based on an incorrect assumption about her religion or belief. This is probably direct discrimination because of religion or belief by perception.

  • 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:

A worker who complains unsuccessfully but in good faith of sexual harassment by their manager is not given a bonus at the end of the year. If the reason for denying them the bonus is the complaint, this would almost certainly be victimisation.
This also includes treating you badly because you have discussed with anyone (including a colleague, former colleague or trade union representative) whether you are paid differently because of a protected characteristic.

For example:

A worker who is of Bangladeshi origin thinks he may be being underpaid because of his race compared with a white colleague. He asks the white colleague and the colleague tells him, even though his contract forbids him from disclosing his pay to other staff. The employer takes disciplinary action against the white colleague as a result and dismisses him. This would be treated as victimisation.

There is more information about this within Further sources of information.

  • Your employer must not harass you.

For example:

A worker is denied a bonus because she refuses to submit to sexual harassment by her manager and instead reports him. The withholding of the bonus is a further act of harassment under the equalilty law definition as it is less favourable treatment because of that refusal to submit.

In addition, if you are a disabled worker, to make sure that you have the same access, as far as is reasonable, to everything that is involved in doing a job as a non-disabled worker, your employer must make reasonable adjustments.
Your employer must make reasonable adjustments to what they do as well as the way that they do it.

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

More information

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