What is discrimination?

The woman is standing at the bus stop worried and thinking.

The Equality Act defines and prohibits the forms of gender-based discrimination. As a rule, the prohibition applies to all areas of social life and all situations in which discrimination may arise.

Discrimination based on gender means actions such as treating women and men differently on the basis of gender and treating a person differently on the basis of gender identity or gender expression, pregnancy, childbirth, parenthood or family obligations. In turn, treating someone differently mainly means granting different benefits or rights, or certain obligations, limitations or burdens in differing ways based on the abovementioned reasons. 

There are special prohibitions of discrimination related to several areas of life. These are working life, educational institutions, interest groups and activities related to the availability and supply of goods and services (sections 8–8e of the Equality Act). In addition to these prohibitions, the Equality Act also contains a general prohibition of discrimination (section 7 of the Equality Act). It can be applied where special prohibitions do not apply.

What does not constitute discrimination?

Treating some people differently from others does not always put them into different positions to a degree that would constitute the kind of discrimination that is prohibited under the Equality Act.

In addition, poor customer service or a refusal to provide service alone do not constitute discrimination. However, this does not apply to actions that must be considered harassment prohibited under the Equality Act.

Exceptions laid down in the Equality Act

The Equality Act specifically lays down certain procedures that are not considered discrimination. Discrimination as defined by the Equality Act is not:

  1. Special protection of women because of pregnancy or childbirth
  2. Enacting legal provisions on compulsory military service for men only
  3. Only accepting women or men as members of an association if this is regulated by the rules of the association
    - labour market organisations can never restrict membership based on gender
    - other types of organisations representing labour market interests may do so only if the organisation strives to carry out the aims of the Equality Act and it is also regulated by the rules of the organisation
  4. Temporary measures based on an equality plan carried out to realise the aims of the Equality Act are not considered discrimination.