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"I was working for a fast food chain and they sent this memo round saying that everyone had to wear the company baseball cap - which is difficult when you wear a turban! They said I could like it or lump it. In the end I got some cash out of them for discrimination."
Balwinder, London

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is when someone is treated worse than other people because of their:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Colour
  • Nationality
  • Ethnic/National origin
  • Religion or Belief
  • Age
  • Sexuality

There are different kinds of discrimination: direct discrimination, indirect discrimination victimisation and harrassment. You could be discriminated against before you even start work, for example, if your application for a job is rejected because of your age or the colour of your skin.

Direct Discrimination

This is the obvious kind of discrimination, for example, if you are not given a pay rise like other workers because you have a disability or if you are sacked because you are pregnant.

Indirect Discrimination

This can be more difficult to spot. If your employer makes a rule at work that looks to be fair on the face of it but in fact puts someone at a disadvantage because of any of the reasons listed above, it can be indirect discrimination. In Balwinder's case, the rule about baseball caps discriminated against him because he couldn't wear the cap as well as his turban.

Another example of indirect discrimination would be if training is only offered to full-time workers and not part-time workers. Most part-time workers are usually women so this could be sex discrimination.


If you have complained of discrimination or helped a colleague who has complained about discrimination and you are singled out or treated worse than other colleagues as a result, this would amount to victimisation. It could include your employer giving you a bad reference after you have left, particularly if your work and conduct had been good. Victimisation is unlawful and you can make a claim to a tribunal.


This is a form of discrimination. Harassment includes verbal abuse, suggestive comments and physical contact. For example, if your boss is giving you unwanted sexual attention.

My boss isn't a problem; it's the other workers…
Employers are responsible for the actions of their staff. It's up to your employer to show that they took all steps possible to prevent other workers from discriminating against you. So, as long as you tell your employer that there is a problem, it's up to them to put a stop to it.

If you feel that you are a victim of discrimination at work:
Have a look at How to tackle problems at work in the menu on the right.

December 2011

Get advice

Need help with a problem? Find advice services and solicitors near you who can help you solve your problem. Many people are able to get free help and advice.

Think you may have you been discriminated against?

Unfair dismissal New

Have you been treated unfairly? Do other people seem to get a better deal than you?
See our Is that discrimination? section

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