Equality Act 2010

What does the Equality Act do?

The Equality Act covers discrimination for the following nine “protected characteristics”

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment,
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity,
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexuality

The Act replaces all previous equality law including the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, the Race Relations Act, the Disability Discrimination Act and the regulations outlawing discrimination on the basis of age, religion or belief and sexual orientation as well as all other related legislation.

Purpose and scope of the act

The act essentially harmonises existing discrimination law by consolidating separate discrimination legislation into a single act.

It aims to strengthen and streamline protection from discrimination, extending the scope of protection to areas beyond the field of employment while retaining specific provisions where a different approach is considered justified, and in order to promote equality.

What are the main changes?

The Act sets out a number of provisions which strengthen and extend protection from discrimination in the employment field including:

  1. Improved protection for disabled people and their carers.
  2. Extended protection from discrimination to people who suffer because they associate with others who have a protected characteristic.
  3. Permitting employers to take positive action in recruitment and promotion.
  4. Requiring private sector employers, from 2013, to report on the gender pay gap whilst rendering pay “gagging” clauses in person’s contracts, unenforceable.
  5. Extending the existing race, sex and disability duties on public bodies to religion or belief, sexual orientation and age;
  6. Permitting discrimination claims to be pursued on the basis of a combination of two protected characteristics.(dual discrimination)
  7. Enabling employment tribunals who find against employers to make recommendations that they should introduce or change workplace policies or practices so as to address discrimination and disadvantage.

What is unlawful discrimination under the Act?

There are a number of different types of discrimination under the Act, as follows:

Direct discrimination

This is when someone is treated less favourably than someone else because of a protected characteristic.

Associative Discrimination

This is the same as direct discrimination but applies to someone because of their association with a person who has a protected characteristic (such as the mother of a disabled child; Coleman v Attridge case law).

Perceptive discrimination

This is the same as direct discrimination but applies to someone because another person thinks they possess a particular protected characteristic. This provision does not apply to the protected characteristic of marriage/civil partnership.

Indirect discrimination

This is when an employer applies a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) which is applied equally to everyone but which in fact puts (or would put) people with a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage compared with those who do not share that characteristic and which cannot be justified by the employer.

Indirect discrimination can only be justified if the employer can show PCP is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The provisions on indirect discrimination do not apply to pregnancy and maternity, however, this may amount to indirect sex discrimination.

Discrimination arising from disability

Discrimination arising from a disability is a new provision which makes it unlawful to treat a disabled person unfavourably not because of the person’s disability itself but for a reason that arises from, or in consequence of their disability.

Duty to make reasonable adjustments

Employers have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in three circumstances:

  • If a provision, criterion or practice puts them at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with someone who is not disabled.
  • If a physical feature puts them at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with someone who is not disabled.
  • If a disabled person would be put at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with someone who is not disabled, were it not for an auxiliary aid.

What other conduct is prohibited?


Harassment is unwanted conducted to a protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating and individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating or hostile, degrading or humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.

There are three key forms of harassment:

  1. Harassment which applies to all protected characteristics apart from pregnancy and maternity, and, marriage and civil partnership, involves unwanted conduct related to protected characteristics.
  2. Sexual Harassment- unwanted conduct that is defined above that is of a sexual nature and
  3. Harassment which is unfavourable treatment because someone has either submitted to, or rejected sexual harassment or sexual harassment related to sex or gender reassignment.

Third party harassment

Employers are liable to harassment by third parties not employed by them, provided that they were aware of at least two previous incidents of harassment and did not take reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from happening again.


This is when the employee is treated badly because they have made or supported a claim under the Equality act.

Read more on the UK Government website.

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