Unlawful discrimination can take a number of different forms:
- You must not treat a person worse because of one or more of their protected characteristics (this is called direct discrimination).
A shop will not serve someone because of their ethnic origin.
A nightclub charges a higher price for entry to a man because of their sex where the service provided to a woman is otherwise exactly the same.
- You must not do something to someone which has (or would have) a worse impact on them and on other people who share a particular protected characteristic than on people who do not share that characteristic. Unless you can show that what you have done is objectively justified, this will be what is called indirect discrimination. ‘Doing something’ can include making a decision, or applying a rule or way of doing things.
A shop decides to apply a ‘no hats or other headgear’ rule to customers. If this rule is applied in exactly the same way to every customer, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims and Rastafarians who may cover their heads as part of their religion will not be able to use the shop. Unless the shop can objectively justify using the rule, this will be indirect discrimination.
- You must not treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected to their disability where you cannot show that what you are doing is objectively justified. This only applies if you know or could reasonably have been expected to know that the person is a disabled person. This is called discrimination arising from disability.
A shop has a ‘no dogs’ rule. If the shop bars a disabled person who uses an assistance dog, not because of their disability but because they have a dog with them, this would be discrimination arising from disability unless the shop can objectively justify what it has done.
- You must not treat a person worse than someone else because they are associated with a person who has a protected characteristic.
A restaurant refuses to serve a customer who has a disabled child with them, but serves other parents who have their children with them.
- You must not treat a person worse because you incorrectly think they have a protected characteristic (perception).
A member of staff in a pub tells a woman that they will not serve her because they think she is a transsexual person. It is likely the woman has been unlawfully discriminated against because of gender reassignment, even though she is not a transsexual person.
- You must not treat a person badly or victimise them because they have complained about discrimination or helped someone else complain or done anything to uphold their own or someone else’s equality law rights.
A customer complains that a member of staff in a café told her she was not allowed to breastfeed her baby except in the toilets. Because she has complained, the café tells her she is barred altogether. This is almost certainly victimisation.
- You must not harass a person.
A member of staff in a nightclub is verbally abusive to a customer in relation to a protected characteristic.
Note: Even where the behaviour does not come within the equality law definition of harassment, for example, because it is related to religion or belief or sexual orientation, it is likely still to be unlawful direct discrimination because you are giving the service to the person on worse terms than you would give someone who did not have the same protected characteristic.
In addition, to make sure that disabled people are able to use your services as far as is reasonable to the same standard as non-disabled people, you must make reasonable adjustments. You cannot wait until a disabled person wants to use your services, but must think in advance about what people with a range of impairments might reasonably need, such as people who have a visual impairment, a hearing impairment, a mobility impairment or a learning disability.
A bank branch has a flight of steps up to its entrance but it is not permitted by the local authority to build a ramp because this would block the pavement. The bank installs a platform lift so that disabled people with mobility impairments can get into the branch. This is a reasonable adjustment.
You can read more about making reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people.