The word ‘discrimination’ is often used on a day to day basis to describe being treated unfairly for a particular reason; but unlawful discrimination happens when less favourable or unfair treatment relates to specific characteristics, known legally as ‘protected characteristics’.
Protected characteristics and liability
The UK have 9 protected characteristics, set out in the Equality Act 2010. These are: Age, Disability, Gender reassignment, Marriage and civil partnership, Pregnancy and maternity, Race, Religion or belief, Sex and Sexual orientation.
Employers and employees can both be liable for acts of discrimination which happen in connection with work. In short, this means that a claim for discrimination can be brought against the employer (as an organisation), but that claims can also be brought personally against individuals.
Sometimes employers can be liable for the acts of their employees, even though the employer did not set out to discriminate against anyone themselves. When this happens, it is known as vicarious liability.
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