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Different types of worker

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This page does not apply outside Great Britain.
Last updated 19th May 2012.

The ’employment’ provisions in Part 5 of the Equality Act 2010 actually cover various other work-related situations. This page gives an overview.

Employees, workers, or self-employed

In employment law there are ’employees’ in the traditional sense who have full employment rights, and ‘workers’ who have some but not all employment rights. Employees and ‘workers’ are both protected by the Equality Act. However genuinely self-employed people, who are not part of someone else’s business, are not within the Equality Act. Where are the boundaries? See Employees, workers and beyond.

Agency workers, secondments

As regards employment agencies:

  • a person who is legally employed by the agency and supplied to the ’employer’ is protected by the Equality Act under the contract worker rules, and
  • if the agency acts as agent of the ’employer’ who legally employes the person, the ’employer’ is liable anyway under the normal Equality Act rules and also the employment agency can be liable as someone supplying employment services:

The contract worker rules can also protect people on secondment, and others who work for someone who is not legally their employer.

Special types of work

There is protection for various non-employment situations, such as police, office holders, partnerships, barristers/advocates, local councillors, and work experience. Apprentices are also covered. See Employees, workers and beyond>Extension beyond employees/ workers.

Former employees/ workers

Employees and workers can be protected by the Equality Act even after they have left employment, for example if a reference is discriminatory.

Exclusions: armed forces, illegal contracts

The armed forces are excluded from disability discrimination provisions (before discharge), but support is available. Also employers sometimes have a defence if the employment contract is illegal. See Exclusions: armed forces, illegal contracts.


On current case law, volunteers are only covered in limited situations. See Volunteers.

Trade unions and and professional organisations

There are rules against discrimination by trade organisations, which includes trade unions, employers organisations and professional institutions.

There are also rules against discrimination by professional/trade qualifications bodies such as the General Medical Council, the Law Society, the Public Carriage Office, and CORGI.

Recruitment agents, vocational training etc

There are special rules on discrimination against customers of ‘employment services‘. Employment services can include various recruitment agency services, vocational guidance, vocational training (including work experience), and some other services

Connection of employment with Great Britain

Usually it is clear whether an employment is within Great Britain or not, but what of jobs with a substantial connection to both Britain and another country? See Connection of employment with Great Britain.

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