What is discrimination?

General prohibition of discrimination

The Equality Act defines and prohibits the forms of gender-based discrimination. This prohibition applies to all areas covered by the Act, meaning as a general rule all areas of social life and all situations in which discrimination may arise.

Direct discrimination

Direct gender-based discrimination means treating women and men differently on the basis of gender, for reasons of pregnancy or childbirth, or for reasons of gender identity and gender expression.

Direct discrimination can be, for example

  • if for example a woman is not chosen for a position even if she is more qualified than the man who was selected
  • having a higher age limit for men at a restaurant.

Indirect discrimination

A presumption of indirect discrimination arises is people are treated differently by virtue of a provision, justification or practice that appears to be gender-neutral in terms of gender identity and gender expression, but where the effect of the action is such that the person may actually find themselves in a less favourable position on the basis of gender.

A presumption of discrimination also arises if a person is treated differently because of parenthood or family responsibility In this case the treatment of two individuals of the same gender can be compared.

In law indirect discrimination is connected with the concept of legal justification. According to this concept an action is not deemed discriminative if it had an acceptable objective and if the chosen methods can be considered relevant and necessary from the point of view of the objective.

Discrimination is prohibited regardless of whether it is based on the individual themselves or on factual or assumed information relating to another individual (discrimination by association or discrimination based on assumption). A situation based on discrimination by association or discrimination based on assumption can be caused if a person is treated differently e.g. because

  • they are the friend of a pregnant woman
  • she is assumed to be pregnant during a job interview

What does not constitute discrimination?

Discrimination as defined by the Equality Act is not:

  1. special protection of women because of pregnancy or childbirth
  2. enacting legal provisions on compulsory military service for men only
  3. only accepting women or men as members of an association if this is regulated by the rules of the association
  • labour market organisations can never restrict membership based on gender
  • other types of organisations representing labour market interests may do so only if the organisation strives to carry out the aims of the Equality Act and it is also regulated by the rules of the organisation
  1. Temporary measures based on an equality plan, which are carried out to realise the aims of the Equality Act, are not considered discrimination.


Statements regarding general prohibitions on discrimination

Do you suspect discrimination?

  • If you suspect that you have been discriminated against you can receive instructions and guidance from the Ombudsman for Equality.
  • In cases of discrimination at work:
    If you are a member of a trade union you should get in touch with the union steward and find out your rights.
  • Guidance from the Ombudsman for Equality is free. The trade union membership fee includes the right to legal advice.
  • You can also contact a legal aid council, a lawyer's office or a lawyer. You will usually be charged for legal services. Check if you have the kind of legal expenses insurance which covers your legal expenses.

    If you are of limited means you may be entitled to the services of a legal aid council for free or for a reduced fee.