Discrimination and Association

Discrimination and Association

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is the act of treating someone unfairly because they have a “protected characteristic”, which could be any of the following:

  • age
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • religion or belief
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • being married or in a civil partnership
  • being pregnant or on maternity leave

Who is protected?

You are protected against discrimination under the Equality Act 2010:

  • at work (including job interviews)
  • in education (e.g. school, colleges, universities)
  • when buying or renting property
  • as a consumer for goods or services (e.g. shops, restaurants and public services)
  • travel and transport
  • public authorities (e.g. local council, NHS, local authority schools)

You are also protected from discrimination if:

  • you’re associated with someone who has a protected characteristic, for example, a family member or friend 
  • you’ve complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim

Discrimination by “Association”

If you are looking after someone who is older or who has a disability, you are also protected under the Equality Act 2010 against direct discrimination or harassment because of your caring responsibilities. This is because you are 'associated' with someone who is protected by the law (because of their age or disability).

How is a "disability" defined under the Equality Act 2010?

The definition of a disability under the Equality Act is someone who has:

“A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities”.

Some “physical and mental impairments” that may meet the definition of “disability” include:

  • mental health conditions - (e.g. depression, anxiety or bipolar)
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • learning disabilities
  • progressive conditions (e.g. arthritis or dementia)
  • conditions affecting organs (e.g. heart disease, bronchitis, strokes)
  • conditions such as fibromyalgia, ME
  • impairments due to injuries to the body or brain

Addiction to substances does not count as a disability under the Equality Act, but conditions caused by this might be (e.g. liver disease or depression).

The following conditions are automatically counted as disabilities under the Equality Act 2010:

  • Cancer
  • HIV infection
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • severe disfigurement – not including tattoos and piercings
  • if you’re certified blind, severely sight impaired, sight impaired or partially sighted by a consultant ophthalmologist

Examples of associative discrimination could be:

  • A parent or carer who does not get employed because they care for a disabled child
  • An employee who is overlooked for promotion because they care for an elderly relative
  • A mother applies to enrol her daughter into a local nursery but she does not get a place. The mother was hoping to take her younger son (who is autistic) to the same nursery as they have a policy of automatically offering places to siblings. The mother could have a claim for associated discrimination on the basis the nursery knew they would have to enrol her younger disabled son and rejected her daughter to make sure they did not have to care for a disabled child
  • A student, whose child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is refused access to a graduation ceremony because of fears about the child's behaviour
  • An employer disciplines an employee because they have taken time off to care for their disabled child. The employer has not disciplined other workers who have had similar amounts of time off work. This directly discriminates on the basis of the employee’s association with her child’s protected characteristic (i.e. disability)
If you feel you have been discriminated against because of a protected characteristic or if you feel you have suffered discrimination by association, please get in touch and we can advise you further.