Discrimination and Harassment

Anti-discrimination requirements and equality regulations are all set out in the single Equality Act 2010.
With reference to the nine protected characteristics, the Equality Law 2010 makes any of the following a legal offence:-

  • Direct Discrimination
  • Associative Discrimination
  • Discrimination by perception
  • Indirect Discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Harassment by a Third Party
  • Victimisation

Direct Discrimination  

Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than another person because of a protected characteristic, or where a person is wrongly thought to have a particular characteristic or is treated as if they do.

Indirect Discrimination 

Indirect discrimination happens when there is a rule, a policy or a practice that applies to everyone but which particularly disadvantages people who share a particular protected characteristic.  Indirect discrimination can only be justified and lawful if it can be shown that the rule, policy or practice is intended to meet a legitimate objective in a fair; balanced and reasonable way.   

Discrimination by Association and perception 

This is where a person is treated less favourably because they are linked or associated with a person who has a protected characteristic.

Discrimination arising from disability 

Discrimination arising from disability occurs when a disabled person is treated unfavourably because of something connected with their disability and this unfavourable treatment cannot be justified.  Treatment can be justified if it can be shown that it is intended to meet a legitimate objective in a fair, balanced and reasonable way.  This form of discrimination can occur only if the service provider knows or can reasonably be expected to know that the disabled person is disabled.

Harassment - disability, gender reassignment, race or sex 

Harassment means unwanted behaviour related to a protected characteristic that has the purpose or effect of violating a person's dignity, or intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment from them.

Harassment - religion or belief or sexual orientation 

There is no specific prohibition on harassment related to religion or belief or to sexual orientation.  However, if you harass someone because of their religion or belief or their sexual orientation, and consequently treat them less favourably than you would treat someone else, a court would count this as direct discrimination, which is unlawful.


Victimisation occurs when a service provider/or employer treats someone badly because they have made or supported a complaint about discrimination or harassment, or because the service provider/employer thinks that they are doing or may do these things.  It will also be victimisation if a service provider/employer treats someone badly because they support someone else who makes a discrimination claim.  A person is not protected from victimisation if they have maliciously made or supported an untrue complaint.

In most cases, the Equality Act 2010 offers an individual the right to tackle what they perceive to be discrimination, harassment or victimisation and to challenge it through the legal system. 

Where there is no specific harassment protection, direct discrimination protection prohibits treatment such as bullying and harassment which results in a person being treated less favourably.

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Last Updated 05/09/2012 16:07