If your business provides services, goods or facilities to the public, you are responsible for the actions of the employees and agents that represent the business.  It is important to ensure that everyone is aware of everything that would constitute discrimination against your customers, to avoid hefty claims.

Types of discrimination against customers

A recent case of discrimination against customers that has been widely reported is where a bakery in Northern Ireland was found to have committed direct discrimination against a customer, when its two directors refused to bake a cake with the caption ‘Support Gay Marriage’.

Under the Equality Act 2010, members of the public accessing goods, services or facilities from a business are protected in relation to the following characteristics:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender reassignment
  • Religion or beliefs
  • Pregnancy or maternity

There are certain exceptions to these characteristics, for example offering age based concessions or restricting items for sale due to age, would not constitute age discrimination.

How you and your staff could be discriminating

Direct discrimination:

This is where a business treats a customer better or worse than another customer, based on a protected characteristic.  For example, charging men more than women to enter a nightclub.

Indirect discrimination:

Applying rules that some customers would not be able to comply with because of a protected characteristic.  For example, not allowing entry to customers who have headwear would prohibit entry to customers who covered their heads for religious reasons.


An obvious one – this includes any unwanted conduct relating to a protected characteristic or of a sexual nature, which isolates, humiliates or degrades an individual.


Customers must not be treated badly because they have highlighted discrimination in any of the following ways:

  • By complaining about discrimination
  • By helping someone else to complain about discrimination
  • By taking action to uphold theirs or someone else’s rights under discrimination law


Businesses have a duty to ensure that they have reasonable adjustments in place to accommodate disabled customers.  Examples would be to provide wheelchair access to shops or to send utility bills in Braille.

Consequences of discrimination

Customers can claim against businesses for discrimination, under injury to feelings.  Claim amounts for injury to feelings (from May 2013) are:

  • Lowest claim bracket: £700-£7,000
  • Middle claim bracket: £7,000-£21,000
  • Highest claim bracket: £21,000-£35,000

Advice about discrimination for businesses

To check whether a policy, protocol or idea is likely to comply with discrimination law under the Equality Act, speak to a specialist corporate and employment lawyer today.