Discrimination by Association and Perception in the Workplace
Under the Equality Act 2010, a person doesn’t have to have a protected characteristic to be discriminated against. It is also possible to be discriminated by association (with someone who has a protected characteristic) and by perception. In the latter case, someone is treated unfairly because they are thought to have a protected characteristic which may or may not be true.
Definition of Discrimination by Association
Discrimination by association is defined as unfair or unfavourable treatment of someone not because of their protected characteristics but because of their association with someone who has a protected characteristic, usually a family member or loved one. Under the law, it is forbidden to discriminate against a person because of their association with someone of a particular race, sexual orientation, age, disability or other protected characteristic. However, the law offers only protection against direct discrimination and harassment. Also, discrimination by association doesn’t apply to all protected characteristics as marriage/civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity are excluded.
Definition of Discrimination by Perception
Discrimination by perception is defined as unfair or unfavourable treatment of a person because they are thought to have a particular protected characteristic no matter if they actually have it or not. For example, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person just because they are thought to be gay or foreign born for instance. Whether they are or aren’t gay or foreign born is irrelevant. But in order to qualify for illegal discrimination, it must be direct. And like in case of discrimination by association, marriage/civil partnership, and pregnancy or maternity are excluded from protected characteristics that apply to discrimination by perception.
Preventing Discrimination by Association and Perception in the Workplace
In addition to making sure that the company complies with all legal requirements, it is also recommended to periodically review workplace policies in regard to the prevention of discrimination of any kind, including by association and perception. Likewise, it’s a good idea to “refresh” the workers’ awareness of the issue by ensuring that discrimination and its prevention are a part of their training and professional development.
It is of utmost importance for workers and especially managers to understand that what they consider an innocent joke or teasing, others may see as harassment which is unlawful as well. Also, it can create a very uncomfortable atmosphere which in turn can negatively affect productivity.