Editor's message: Direct discrimination occurs where an employer treats someone less favourably because of a protected characteristic. Bad treatment that is not connected to a protected characteristic is not discrimination.
"Employee" under the Equality Act 2010 includes workers, apprentices, job applicants, and ex-employees.
Employees do not have to be employed for a minimum period of time to have legal protection against discrimination. Indeed, many discrimination claims are brought by job applicants who will not have accrued any continuity of employment.
The Equality Act refers to discrimination "because of a protected characteristic" without specifying to whom that characteristic applies. This means that discrimination may occur if an employee is subjected to less favourable treatment because of their association with an individual who has a protected characteristic, or because the employer mistakenly perceives that the employee has a particular protected characteristic.
Direct discrimination can never be justified except in cases concerning the protected characteristic of age.
There are some limited exceptions to the prohibition on direct discrimination in employment. A key exception is an occupational requirement.
Fiona Cuming, employment law editor
HR and legal information and guidance relating to direct discrimination.