Understanding different forms of discrimination
If you are looking after someone who is elderly or disabled, the law – under the Equality Act 2010 – will protect you against direct discrimination or harassment because of your caring responsibilities.
In some cases carers may also have rights under disability and sex discrimination legislation.
This information explains discrimination by association and harassment, which may be useful if you feel you have been treated unfairly because of your caring role.
It also explains other forms of discrimination, which may be useful if you feel the person you are looking after has been treated unfairly because of their age or disability.
Note: This information applies to people living in England, Wales and Scotland. In Northern Ireland carers are protected under the Human Rights Act and Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, which requires public bodies to promote equality of opportunity for carers.
Five important questions
If you are looking after someone who is elderly or disabled, the law will protect you from direct discrimination or harassment because of your caring responsibilities.
This is because you are counted as being 'associated' with someone who is protected by the law because of their age or disability.
Someone may experience discrimination in the workplace, in relation to education, housing, buying goods or services or accessing public services.
There are three things to keep in mind when thinking about whether the Equality Act applies to your situation:
1/ Protected characteristics – Why have you or the person you are looking after been treated unfairly?
2/ Sector – Where did the unfair treatment happen?
3/ Prohibited conduct – How were you or the person you are looking after treated unfairly?
The Equality Act offers protection against being treated unfairly because of:
- gender reassignment
- marriage or civil partnership
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation.
These are known as “protected characteristics” and where someone is treated unfairly because of them, this is called “discrimination”.
In some cases, the Equality Act can also protect carers from being treated unfairly because of their association with the person they care for; this is called “discrimination by association”.
This information focuses mainly on “disability discrimination” and “discrimination by association”, but it is important to be aware that the Equality Act applies to all of the above characteristics. Therefore if you, or the person you are looking after, have experienced discrimination because of any of the characteristics listed above, then you should get some further advice – see our list of useful organisations.
The Equality Act covers you and the person you care for in relation to:
- employment (such as applying for jobs or work place practices)
- education (such as school, colleges, universities)
- housing (such as buying and renting houses or flats)
- goods or services (such as shops, restaurants and public services etc.)
- travel and transport
- public authorities (such as local council, NHS, local authority schools).
Once you have established why you, or the person you are looking after, have been treated unfairly and where this has taken place, the next step is to consider whether this unfair treatment is unlawful under the Equality Act.
The different types of discrimination are outlined below:
Direct discrimination is where someone with a protected characteristic such as a disability is treated less favourably than someone else in the same situation who does not share the protected characteristic.
This is where there is a general rule, criteria or practice that applies to everyone but in practice it particularly disadvantages people with certain protected characteristics.
Discrimination by association
This is where someone is treated less favourably because of their link or association with the protected characteristic of someone else (such as a carer’s link to the disabled person they are looking after).
Six steps you can take if you have been unlawfully discriminated against
Step 1/ Identify how you have been discriminated against
Get some specialist advice, as there may be impending deadlines for taking legal action which may alter the order in which you should proceed – see our list of useful organisations.
Step 2/ Complain informally about the discrimination with the relevant organisation
You could do this by email, letter or phone. It is worth keeping a record of any conversations, meetings and correspondence regarding the issue. If the informal complaint is not resolved, go to step 3.
Step 3/ Make a formal complaint
Check the time limits for making your complaint. If there's a complaints/grievance procedure, follow the procedure. If there isn't a complaints/grievance procedure, complain in writing. If the complaint is still unresolved, go to step 4.
Step 4/ Escalate your complaint to an independent organisation
Check the time limits for making your complaint. If the independent complaints procedure does not resolve matters, go to step 5.
Step 5/ Consider mediation, conciliation or arbitration.
If this still doesn’t resolve matters go to step 6. For more guidance about these approaches, see 'Useful organisations' under 'Further help' below.
Step 6/ You could consider legal action.
This could be a costly option. If you are on a low income, you may be able to get legal aid to pay for specialist legal advice to help with your case – see our list of useful organisations.
Employment tribunals – there is a strict time limit of three months less one day to ask them to look at your case.
County Court – if you have been discriminated against by a service provider, you can take this to the county court. There is a six month deadline for this.
Equality Advisory and Support Service
The Equality Advisory and Support Service advises and assists individuals on issues relating to equality and human rights.
Helpline: 0808 800 0082 (textphone 0808 800 0084) open Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm and Saturday 10am to 2pm.
You can also email using a form on their website.
ACAS provides information, advice, training, conciliation and other services for employers and employees to help prevent or resolve workplace problems.
Helpline: 0300 123 1100 (text relay service 18001 0300 123 1100) open Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm and Saturday 9am to 1pm.
You can also ask a question online.
Civil Legal Advice
Civil Legal Advice might be able to give free confidential advice on discrimination if you are eligible for legal aid.
Disability Law Service
Disability Law Service provides free legal advice and representation for disabled people, including those facing discrimination at work.