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Overview of the Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1 October 2010

Posted on 22 November 2010

The Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1 October 2010.  Its main purpose is to harmonise equality law (as set out in the previously legislation, such as the Sex Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act, Disability Discrimination Act and regulations relating to religion and belief, sexual orientation and age. 

Some provisions extend protection from discrimination; others consolidate them to provide consistency between the different characteristics. 

The way in which the previous law was interpreted by tribunals and courts is likely to be relevant where the provisions are similar. 

The following is a brief overview of the Act. Further details are summarised under each section. The discriminator is referred to as 'A' and the person  discriminated against is referred to as 'B'

There are nine protected characteristics:

  • Age: Whether 'too old' or 'too young' or 'grey' or 'wet behind the ears'; it includes age groups, such as those between 40 and 50 or over 65 (s.5);
  • Disability:  A person (B) has a disability if s/he has a physical or mental impairment and that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on A's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities (s6);
  • Gender reassignment: This is where 'B' is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process, or part of a process, for the purpose of reassigning the person's sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex (s7);
  • Marriage and civil partnership: Where 'B' is married or in a civil partnership, not if they are perceived to be married or in a civil partnership. The protection does not apply to persons intending to marry or enter a civil partnership (s8);
  • Race: This includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins. Colour includes being black or white. Nationality includes citizenship (s9);
  • Religion or belief: Religion means any religion and includes lack of belief.  Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and includes lack of belief (s10);
  • Sex: This refers to a man or woman of any age (s11);
  • Sexual orientation: This includes a person who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual (s12);
  • Pregnancy and maternity leave: This refers to a pregnant woman or woman on maternity leave.

There are six types of discrimination, two of which only apply where the complainant has a disability

a.    Direct: This is where there is less favourable treatment because of a protected characteristic (as set out above).  This cannot be justified except in the case of age;
b.    Disability related discrimination: This is where A treats B (who has a disability) unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of B's disability and A cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. A consequence of disability may be disability related sickness absence. This is only unlawful if A knew that B was disabled.
c.    Indirect: this is where unjustified workplace practices, provisions or criteria disadvantage a group with a protected characteristic compared to a group who does not have this characteristic. Thus, a requirement to work full-time or long hours may disadvantage women compared to men as it is mainly women who take primary responsibility for childcare;
d.    Reasonable adjustments for those with a disability: Where a provision, criterion or practice puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage (compared to a person who is not disabled),  A must take such steps as reasonable to avoid the disadvantage.  This includes:
  • providing information in an accessible form,
  • removing, altering or avoiding a physical feature which disadvantages a disabled person, for example to enable access to a building;
  • proving an auxiliary aid, such as a computer accessory.

The costs should not be paid for by the disabled person.

e.    Harassment:

This only applies to age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation.  Protection does not apply to pregnancy, maternity, being married or in a civil partner though the treatment may still be direct discrimination.

There are three types of harassment:
  1. Unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive          environment for the complainant or violating her/his dignity.
  2. Unwanted conduct of a sexual nature where this has the same harassing purpose or effect as above;
  3. Less favourable treatment because the victim has either submitted or refused to submit to sexual harassment or             harassment related to sex or gender reassignment.
f.    Victimisation: This occurs where a person is treated less favourably because s/he has either brought proceedings under the Act, given evidence in connection with proceedings, done anything for the purpose or in connection with the act, or alleged that A or another person has discriminated.  This is to protect those who complain of     discrimination or give evidence in relation to such a complaint.

Who is protected at work?
  • Job applicants
  • Police officers
  • Trainees
  • Employees and other workers
  • Contract workers, ie those who are employed by an agency who supplies them to the principal (for whom the workers work)
  • Ex- employees
  • Partners
  • Barristers
  • Trade organisations, such as trade unions.
Who is liable for the discrimination and can be sued
An employer will be liable for discrimination carried out by an employee unless it has taken all reasonably practicable steps (before the discrimination occurred) to prevent it happening.

An employee will also be personally liable for any discrimination during the course of employment.

In what circumstances are individuals protected in the work context?

All types of discrimination, (ie direct, indirect, disability related, failure to make reasonable adjustments, harassment, victimisation) are prohibited in the following circumstances:
  • Recruitment, eg not appointing a candidate because of a protected characteristic, such as age, sex, race,
  • Training; eg access to training,
  • Promotion
  • Terms and conditions, including pay,
  • Dismissal, whether by the employer, where a fixed term contract expires without being renewed or where the employee resigns in response to the employer's discriminatory conduct (or other fundamental breach of contract),
  • Being subjected to any other detriment; this is very broadly interpreted so would include any disadvantage that was not trivial.

Are there any exceptions?
Yes, and they differ according to the protected characteristic. The main exception is in relation to occupational requirements.  This is where it can be shown that a protected characteristic is appropriate for the job. An example would be actors, where a woman is needed for a particular part.