Discrimination is prejudiced, altered treatment of a person, team or group because of a real or perceived quality. Discrimination in the workplace involves making decisions as to promotion, workload, praise, recruitment and discipline on the basis of the decision-maker’s own views on the relative worth of the real or perceived quality.
Common areas where employees may find themselves discriminated against at work include gender, sexual orientation and race.
Legislation helps protect employees from discrimination at work and is mostly contained in the Equality Act 2010. Indirect discrimination is also illegal under the Act – this occurs when company rules and regulations discriminate by extension e.g. a provision that required workers to be able to lift a certain weight may indirectly discriminate against women.
A related term is positive discrimination, known as affirmative action in the United States, which means taking factors such as race and gender into consideration when making workplace decisions in order to increase the numbers of an underrepresented group.
Positive discrimination is illegal in the United Kingdom, however positive action, which encourages equal opportunity, is legal. It can be difficult for employers to know where the line is drawn.