An Introduction to the Equality Act 2010

The Equalities Act 2010 was passed on 8 April 2010 and most of the provisions of the Act have now come into force.

The Act simplifies and has replaced the large number of Acts and Regulations, which formed the basis of anti-discrimination law such as the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The Act defines the various kinds of discrimination by reference to characteristics which are protected under the Act.

What types of characteristics are protected by the Act?

The Act protects the following characteristics (referred to in the Act as “protected characteristics”):

  • age;

  • disability;

  • gender reassignment;

  • marriage and civil partnership;

  • pregnancy and maternity;

  • race;

  • religion or belief;

  • sex;

  • sexual orientation.

What sort of conduct is prohibited by the Act?

The Act prohibits discrimination (whether direct or indirect) against people who possess one of the protected characteristics. It also prohibits the harassment and victimisation of such people.

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination takes place where a person treats another person who has a protected characteristic less favourably than he or she treats or would treat others not possessing the protected characteristic.

The following types of conduct will amount to less favourable treatment:

  • segregating a person from others by reason of their race;

  • less favourable treatment of a woman who is breast-feeding;

Certain conduct which on the face of it would amount to direct discrimination is, however, permitted by the Act. The Act, for example, permits the following conduct:

  • where the treatment of a person possessing the protected characteristic of age is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim;

  • more favourable treatment of disabled people.

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice is applied which is discriminatory in relation to protected characteristic. This includes conduct which is applied or would apply to persons who do not share the characteristic in question and conduct which puts or would put a person possessing a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage.

Conduct which can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim is, however, permitted.

The provisions contained in the Act relating to indirect discrimination do not apply to the protected characteristics of pregnancy and maternity.

What is harassment?

Harassment occurs where a person is subjected to unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating his dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him. This can include unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or that is related to gender reassignment or sex.

The provisions contained in the Act relating to harassment do not apply to the protected characteristics of pregnancy and maternity and marriage and civil partnership.

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For more information on:

  • What is victimisation?
  • In what circumstances will the Act apply?
  • How are the provisions of the Act enforced?
  • When will the remaining provisions of the Act come into force?