Core guidance: Career development - training promotion and transfer.

Are you an employer?

This guide calls you an employer if you are the person making decisions about what happens in a work situation. Most situations are covered, even if you don’t give your worker a written contract of employment or if they are a contract worker rather than a worker directly employed by you. Other types of worker such as trainees, apprentices and business partners are also covered. Sometimes, equality law only applies to particular types of worker, such as employees, and we make it clear if this is the case.

Protected characteristics

Make sure you know what is meant by:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

These are known as protected characteristics.

View a detailed list of the protected characteristics

What is unlawful discrimination?

Unlawful discrimination can take a number of different forms:

  • You must not treat a worker worse than because of a protected characteristic (this is called direct discrimination).

For example:

An employer does not consider someone to be suitable for a promotion just because they are a disabled person.

  • In the case of women who are pregnant or on maternity leave, the test is not whether the woman is treated worse than someone else, but whether she is treated unfavourably from the time she tells you she is pregnant to the end of her maternity leave (equality law calls this the protected period) because of her pregnancy or a related illness or because of maternity leave.
  • You must not do something which has (or would have) a worse impact on a worker and on other people who share a particular protected characteristic than on people who do not have the same characteristic. Unless you can show that what you have done, or intend to do, is objectively justified, this will be indirect discrimination. ‘Doing something’ can include making a decision, or applying a rule or way of doing things.

For example:

An employer only allows workers who work full-time to apply for promotion. This has a worse impact on women workers, who are more likely to work part-time. Unless the employer can objectively justify the requirement to work full-time, this is very likely to be indirect discrimination because of sex.

  • You must not treat a disabled worker unfavourably because of something connected to their disability where you cannot show that what you are doing is objectively justified. This only applies if you know or could reasonably have been expected to know that the worker is a disabled person. This is called discrimination arising from disability.

For example:

An employer who runs a fashion store turns down a worker who is a disabled person for a promotion to a customer-facing role, even though she is well-qualified for the job. The worker is a person of restricted growth and very few of the clothes the store sells fit her, which means she could not meet the requirement the employer has that shop staff should wear the clothes the store sells. The worker has been treated unfavourably (not getting the promotion) because of something arising from her disability (that she cannot wear standard sized clothing). This is almost certainly discrimination arising from disability unless the employer can objectively justify the requirement to wear particular clothes. This may also be a failure to make a reasonable adjustment.

  • You must not treat a worker worse than another worker because they are associated with a person who has a protected characteristic.

For example:

An employer does not ask a worker if they would like to go on a training course because they know the worker has a disabled partner who they assist in day-to-day tasks like washing and dressing. The employer assumes the worker would not want to be away from home for a longer than usual working day, which is what the training would involve. However, the worker should still be asked if they want to go on the course. Instead, they have been excluded from this opportunity. This is very likely to be direct discrimination because of disability.

  • You must not treat a worker worse than another worker because you incorrectly think they have a protected characteristic (perception).

For example:

An employer does not offer a worker a chance of a promotion because they think the worker is gay, even though they are not, and they do not think other workers would like to be managed by them. This is likely to be direct discrimination because of sexual orientation.

  • You must not treat a worker badly or victimise them because they have complained about discrimination or helped someone else complain or have done anything to uphold their own or someone else’s equality law rights.

For example:

An employer does not offer a worker training. This is because last year the worker supported a colleague in a complaint that she had been harassed at work. If the reason for the failure to give the worker the training opportunity is the help the worker gave to their colleague, this is likely to be victimisation.

  • You must not harass a worker.

For example:

An employer makes someone who is being interviewed for promotion feel humiliated by telling jokes about their religion or belief during the interview.

  • In addition, to make sure that a disabled worker has the same access, as far as is reasonable, to everything that is involved in doing a job as a non-disabled worker, you must make reasonable adjustments.

For example:

A suitably qualified and experienced disabled worker who has an impairment which affects their hand and arm mobility is promoted to a position where they need to word process documents. Their employer provides them with assistive technology to help with this part of the role. While they are waiting for the technology to be installed, the employer arranges for a temporary audio typist to assist them instead.

You can read more about making reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people.

We also highlight issues that are especially relevant in relation to training, developing, promoting or transferring a disabled person.

More information

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