The Equality Act 2010: a guide for employers and employees

The Equality Act - Justice

Yvonne Howard is a highly experienced Diversity and Inclusion Consultant with extensive experience in the transportation, construction, engineering and built environment sectors, as well as local government. She has also contributed to our diversity mentoring programme at the BBC.

The Equality Act 2010 is the UK’s primary legal framework for protecting individual rights and furthering equality, diversity, and inclusion. Whether you are an employer or employee, it’s important that you understand the rights laid out in the legislation.

In this guide, we explore what the Equality Act 2010 is, the nine protected characteristics it safeguards, the discrimination it aims to eliminate, and the public sector equality duty.

What is the Equality Act 2010?

The Equality Act 2010 came into force on October 1st, 2010 and is designed to protect individuals across society from unfair and discriminatory treatment. It combines 116 pieces of previous legislation in one act, most notably the:

  • Equal Pay Act 1970
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1975
  • Race Relations Act 1976
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995
  • Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003
  • Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003
  • Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006
  • Equality Act 2006, Part 2
  • Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007

The Act is designed to help the UK become a fairer, more equitable society by regulating the way businesses and public services treat the public and employees. It is important employees understand their rights, as they may be covered by a key part of the legislation known as ‘protected characteristics’. Employers must also understand these so they can fulfil their legal obligations.

Equality Act 2010: the nine protected characteristics

The Equality Act 2010 defends employees and the public’s right to not be discriminated against when interacting with their employers, public services, businesses, transport, clubs and associations, and public bodies. The legislation’s protections span nine groups – the protected characteristics:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Employers should make themselves aware of the nine protected characteristics and ensure that leaders know their responsibilities. This primarily comes down to understanding what the Act defines as discrimination.

Equality Act 2010: types of discrimination

The Act describes six key types of discrimination that employees are protected from; these differ depending on which of the protected characteristics is being discriminated against:

  • Direct discrimination – If you are treated worse than others because you have any of the protected characteristics.
  • Indirect discrimination – If you are put at a disadvantage to others due to workplace policies or ways of working that discriminate against those with any of the protected characteristics.
  • Harassment – If you are degraded, offended, or humiliated by another person on account of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation.
  • Victimisation – If you are poorly treated after submitting or supporting a complaint regarding protected characteristic-related discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. It spans age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation.
  • Unfavourable treatment – Specific to the pregnancy and maternity characteristic, this occurs if you are treated badly because you are pregnant, taking maternity leave, returning to work after giving birth, or because of reasons related to these.
  • Failure to make reasonable adjustments – Specific to the disability characteristic, this arises if your employer does not ensure that disabled people can access services, education, and jobs as a non-disabled person would.
  • Discrimination arising from disability – Specific to the disability characteristic, this occurs if you are treated poorly due to circumstances arising from your disability and the discriminator is or should be aware that you are disabled.

Employers must be aware of these types of discrimination and, crucially, take swift action to protect employees or the public should they occur.

Equality Act 2010: the public sector equality duty

As well as businesses, the Act covers the public sector under what is known as the public sector equality duty. This part of the law compels public authorities to be aware and actively consider how their actions, processes, and policies impact those who fall under protected characteristics. This is similar to preventing discrimination, but goes further, ensuring that all public sector decision-making is performed with protected characteristics in mind, thus promoting and furthering equality. (Read the full legislation here.)

EW Group is an expert in the Equality Act 2010 and has helped countless private and public organisations meet their obligations under the Act.

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