What is Associative Discrimination at Work?

Written by Calvin
Last updated March 13, 2023

The Equality Act of 2010 outlines the many forms of discrimination at work. The piece of legislation aims to protect a wide range of people from these forms of discrimination, including associative discrimination, and to help those people understand their rights at work

Often, one of the most overlooked forms of workplace discrimination is associative discrimination. While not the most heavily discussed, discrimination by association is important to discuss and understand. If we don’t understand it, we won’t be able to spot it when it happens. This, in turn, means that we won’t be able to report it and have the matter dealt with in an appropriate manner. 

So, to help with this, we are going to discuss associative discrimination at work in more detail. Particularly so, we will provide examples so that you can best understand the concept in practice. 

Let’s get started.

What is Workplace Discrimination?

Before we go any further, let’s pin down exactly what we mean by workplace discrimination. Discrimination at work happens when anyone is treated unfairly or put at an advantage because of any protected characteristic. Protected characteristics are outlined by the Equality Act and they refer to the characteristics a person can have that cannot be discriminated against at work. These include: 

At work, no decisions can be made about a person’s employment or treatment based on any of these factors. UK citizens are particularly protected from discrimination at work on the grounds of these protected characteristics. You can read more about protected characteristics and the Equality Act on our site if you want any more details.

There are different ways in which discrimination against these protected characteristics can occur, including:

  • Direct discrimination
  • Indirect discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Victimisation

There is also discrimination by association or associative discrimination. This happens when someone is discriminated against in work not because of a protected characteristic they have, but due to one that someone they are connected to has, or is perceived to have. 

This is best described via examples. Let’s jump into some of those next.

Examples of Associative Discrimination

Here are some examples of associate discrimination at work to give you a better idea of how it can occur.

  1. A parent is treated less favourably at work due to the fact that their child is mentally disabled. They are left out of events and disregarded from promotion processes due to the belief that their child will cause problems for them in these areas. 
  2. Someone is treated well at work until their manager discovers that their partner is black. After this discovery, they are sidelined from important meetings and kept out of the loop with networking and social events. 
  3. An employee discloses that their partner is transgender. Afterwards, they are subjected to hurtful and harmful “jokes” regarding transgender people and gender reassignment by others in the office. They are even included in a distasteful email chain. 
  4. A man going for promotion discloses that their wife is pregnant. After the announcement, the promotion they were verbally told was “guaranteed” suddenly disappears and the employee is told they are now an unreliable candidate.

In all of these examples, someone is treated poorly at work and excluded from appropriate opportunities not based on their own protected characteristic, but based on that of another person close to them. They are still being discriminated against, even though it is not as obvious.

As associative discrimination is a less direct form of discrimination, it can be harder to spot and it can be more challenging for an employee to feel that they can come forward about their experience. However, it is a valid and harmful form of discrimination that needs to be dealt with whenever it happens at work. Any form of workplace discrimination is totally unacceptable.

What to Do If You Experience Discrimination by Association

The following are our suggested steps for dealing with such an unfortunate situation at work. 

  1.  Make sure to take note of everything that is said, by whom, and when. Build a record of associative discrimination and gather witnesses whenever possible.
  2. Try to deal with things internally first. Speak to your manager or a member of HR to discuss your experiences, providing the evidence you have. In the best-case scenario, this situation can be dealt with via internal intervention before going any further. 
  3. If this does not resolve things, speak to Citizen’s Advice about taking things further. They can help you with tribunals and taking Union action. 
  4. After this, you may consider taking your own legal action. Speaking to a solicitor will help you understand your options before making any further proceedings. 
  5. At any point, you may wish to find a new job. Experiencing discrimination at work is always hurtful, harmful, and upsetting. This can be worsened if you don’t receive help or support upon reporting it. As such, you might want to find a job where you are treated better. For more information on that, keep reading our next section.

What We Can Do to Help 

Here at Aspiring to Include, we believe in helping everyone find working environments where they can be free of all forms of discrimination. As well as helping employees and jobseekers learn about discrimination and diversity at work, we can also help connect you with these appropriate and safe working environments. 

We have an inclusive job board, on which we post diversity-positive, and accessible job opportunities from inclusive employers. If you want to find a working environment that prioritises inclusivity and works to rid itself of discrimination, then this should be the starting point of your search.

For more information, feel free to reach out to our team. And for all the latest inclusive opportunities, be sure to sign up for the Aspiring to Include weekly newsletter below.

Share This Story

Last Updated: Thursday October 5 2023
Go to Top