The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace. It prohibits discrimination and other unfair conduct relating to certain ‘protected characteristics’. These protected characteristics are:
• gender reassignment
• marriage and civil partnership
• pregnancy and maternity
• religion or belief
• sexual orientation
For more information on discrimination, see our article on Discrimination, Harassment and Victimisation.
Unfortunately, being a parent or a carer is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. However, parents and carers may experience other kinds of discrimination related to their caring responsibilities.
Discrimination as a parent or carer
Although the Equality Act does not treat being a parent or carer as a protected characteristic, parents and carers who experience unfair treatment at work due to their childcare or caring responsibilities may receive protection under the Equality Act. The following are types of unlawful discrimination that parents and carers often experience:
- Sex discrimination: Women still tend to bear the primary responsibility of childcare. This means that women and men can experience sex discrimination related to their caring responsibilties. For instance, it has been successfully argued that, because women tend to have more childcare responsibilities than men, insisting that women work long or inflexible hours can be indirect sex discrimination. Or if an employer turns down an employee’s request for leave because they believe men shouldn’t have childcare responsibilties, this would be an example of direct sex discrimination.
- Pregnancy and maternity discrimination: This type of discrimination occurs when a woman is treated unfavourably because of her pregnancy, pregnancy-related illness, or intention to take maternity leave.
- Marriage and civil partnership discrimination. This type of discrimination happens when a person is treated less favourably because of their marital status or because they are in (or not in) a civil partnership.
- Disability discrimination – where a person is discriminated against because of a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Find out more on disability discrimination here.
What to do if you think your employer has discriminated against you
If you believe your employer has discriminated against you, try speaking to your employer in the first instance to resolve things informally. If the discussions with your employer do not resolve the issue, or if you think your employer has treated you very unfairly and the relationship is breaking down, you can consider raising a grievance.
If the above steps do not resolve the matter, you could bring a claim in the employment tribunal. Please note that tribunal claims can be expensive and long, and there is no guarantee of success, so this step should be considered cautiously. It is often best to try to resolve the issue with your employer.
This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.