Positive discrimination is generally unlawful in the UK. For example, an employer recruiting a person because he or she has a relevant protected characteristic rather than because he or she is the best candidate would be committing discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. It is also unlawful to set quotas to recruit or promote a specific number or proportion of people with a particular protected characteristic.
There are limited circumstances in which it is lawful to require a job applicant or worker to have a particular protected characteristic, for example where an occupational requirement applies. Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance gives the example of a women’s refuge requiring all members of staff to be women.
Positive discrimination, should be distinguished from positive action, which is lawful.