Harassment & Discrimination

The law protects individuals from discrimination and harassment. This means that employees have the right to work without fear of being treated differently or harassed because of certain characteristics, and individuals can apply for jobs knowing that the characteristic will not impact on their prospect of success.

If there is an issue of discrimination or harassment within your work place, contact Ben Thornber for advice and assistance.

Legal Protection From Discrimination and Harassment

Under the law, an employee, job applicant or former employee cannot be treated less favourably – whether on pay, other terms of employment, or day-to-day treatment – because of their race, a disability, religion or belief, gender or sex, sexual orientation, age or a result of pregnancy or marital status. These are known as “protected characteristics”.

The law outlines the specific conduct that is prohibited for these protected characteristics:

Direct Discrimination

This covers circumstances where a person discriminates against another on the grounds of one of the protected characteristics.  For example, not giving someone a job because they are from a different nationality or race, or because they are disabled or too old, would amount to direct discrimination.

Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criteria or practice applies equally to everyone, but has a disproportionate adverse impact on a group which shares a particular characteristic, and an individual with that characteristic is disadvantaged accordingly.  For example, requiring women to work full time impacts on them more than men because women are more likely than men to need to look after the family.  The requirement may therefore be indirect discrimination – but not always, if the employer can give good reasons for it and the rule cannot be accommodated in any other way, eg by allowing part- time work.

Discrimination by Association

Discrimination by association occurs where an employee is discriminated against because they know or are associated with someone with a protected characteristic.  For example, if an employee is required to look after a disabled relative, an employer may need to allow more flexible working arrangements; if not, discrimination would occur through the employee’s close association with the relative’s protected characteristic (disability).


This covers circumstances where an individual takes part in unwanted conduct towards another on the grounds of a protected characteristic.  Examples would be racist or sexist comments directed towards another employee, or any other bullying behaviour which is related to a characteristic (sex, race, disability etc).


Victimisation is where an individual discriminates against another on the basis of that person (i) making a complaint of a breach of equality law, (ii) giving evidence in connection with an alleged breach, or (iii) bringing proceedings in connection with an alleged breach of equality law.  A typical example would be if an employer sidelined an employee because he/she had brought a complaint of discrimination or harassment by another employee.

Disability – reasonable adjustments

Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate those with a disability.  What amounts to a “reasonable” in this context depends on the facts in each case, but employers are expected to go quite far to meet their obligations

Discrimination Liability

Employers can be held vicariously liable (ie responsible) for the discriminatory actions of employees – even if the employer were unaware or disapproved of their actions.

Employees can issue a claim to an Employment Tribunal within three months after the act of discrimination has occurred. Successful claimants will be awarded injury to feelings and, if relevant, compensation for loss of earnings.

Contact Thornber Employment Law for Legal Advice on Harassment or Discrimination at Work

With Ben Thornber, you get someone who has the know-how, personality and practical no-nonsense style to advise harassment and discrimination issues.  Based in Dunfermline, Ben advises businesses and individuals in Fife and across Scotland.  Give Ben a call on 01383 27 2000 or fill out our online enquiry form to arrange your free initial discussion.