What is the difference between positive action and positive discrimination?

A key difference between positive action and positive discrimination is that positive action is lawful (provided that the employer meets the conditions set out in ss.158 or 159 of the Equality Act 2010), whereas positive discrimination, generally, is not (see What "positive action" is permitted under discrimination legislation?).

In the recruitment context, unlawful positive discrimination would be where an employer recruits a person because they have a relevant protected characteristic rather than because they are the best candidate. It is also unlawful, for example, to set quotas to recruit or promote a specific number or proportion of people with a particular protected characteristic. There are circumstances in which it is lawful to require a job applicant or worker to have a particular protected characteristic, for example where an occupational requirement applies. However, these circumstances are rare.