Other forms of unlawful treatment (discrimination)

Site updated on February 17, 2020

Trade union membership

It is unlawful for an employer to refuse employment on the grounds that an individual is a member or a non-member of a trade union. If you feel that you have been denied a job, or the opportunity of a job, including promotion, because of trade union membership or trade union activities, you have the right to complain to an employment tribunal. The term ‘refused employment’ covers a range of activities. These apply where an employer:

(a) refuses to consider an application;

(b) causes the candidate to withdraw;

(c) refuses to offer employment;

(d) offers employment only on the condition that the candidate leaves the union.


Any decision not to appoint a woman on the grounds of her pregnancy alone is liable to be classed as discrimination. If you have been turned down for employment or promotion and you believe this is due to pregnancy, this is classed as  discrimination under the Equality Act and you may complain to a tribunal.

For more information on pregnancy issues refer to the  “Your Family Rights” Section or Contact our Advice Line.

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 

This Act makes it unlawful for employers, or prospective employers, to take into account offences which are deemed under the legislation as being ‘spent’. After a certain period of time, which depends on the seriousness of their offence, the person concerned should be treated as if the conviction had never taken place. The rehabilitation periods were reduced in March 2014. Candidates may legitimately omit to give details to employers and such sentences must not be considered in the selection process.

Employers can ask job applicants to disclose any previous convictions, apart from spent convictions. If an employer discovers an employee has a spent conviction, and takes action against the employee, this will be unfair.

There are a range of exceptions, where all previous offences, including “spent” convictions should be disclosed. In other words these professions and jobs are exempt from the Act.

Exempted professions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • medical practitioner
  • barrister
  • accountant
  • dentist
  • veterinary surgeon
  • nurse or midwife
  • appointments to the judiciary
  • police officers
  • prison workers
  • probation officers
  • local authority employees in social services
  • health services
  • teaching or other occupation involving caring for people under 18

In 2001 the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) was established. This is now known as the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) following a change of name and  certain functions.

An agency of the Home Office, the DBS will enable employers to discover information on the criminal records of job applicants. For some sensitive roles, enhanced checks can be required and these may even disclose police cautions where no charges were brought.

Political Belief

In 2013 protection was introduced on the grounds of political belief. It is now automatically unfair dismissal ( in other words no service is required) if you are subjected to dismissal because of a political belief. This would include being dismissed or made redundant. It would also cover you if you resign because of harassment connected with your political belief.

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