Discrimination on the grounds of marriage and civil partnership under the Equality Act 2010

What does the Act prohibit?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination (whether direct or indirect) and victimisation on the ground that a person is married or in a civil partnership.

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination occurs where a person treats another person less favourably than he or she treats or would treat a single person on the ground that they are married or in a civil partnership.

Direct discrimination will occur if, for example, an employer does not promote an employee who has just got married for fear that he or she may be planning to start a family and may need to take time off work.

The Act does not prohibit the harassment of a married person or a civil partner. However, such conduct could amount to discrimination.

However, conduct which would on the face of it amount to direct discrimination is permitted if the conduct amounts to a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice, which is applied or would apply puts persons who are married or in a civil partnership at a disadvantage.

For example, a ban on recruiting people who have children may place a disadvantage on married people.

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

What is victimisation?

Victimisation occurs where a person is subjected to a detriment by reason of the fact that he has (or it is believed that he has or may) carried out one of the following acts:

  • brought or given evidence or information in proceedings brought under the Act;

  • the doing of something for the purposes of or in connection with the Act.

  • made an allegation that a person has contravened the Act.

However, the giving of false evidence or information, or the making of a false allegation is not protected by the Act if it is given or made in bad faith.

Who does the Act protect?

The Act only protects those who are married or in a civil partnership. It does not protect single people and it does not protect people who are associated with a person who is married or in a civil partnership, such as their relatives.

In what circumstances does the Act apply?

The Act only protects those who are married or in a civil partnership in the workplace.

The Act applies to all aspects of employment including recruitment, terms and conditions of employment, training, promotions and transfers, dismissals, redundancy and retirement.

Married employees and employees in civil partnerships should be treated in the same way. For example, where an employer provides a benefit to the spouses of employees it should ensure that the benefit is also available to the civil partners of employees. However, it is permissible to provide a benefit to employees who are married or in civil partnerships, but not to single people since they have no protection under the Act.

The Act applies to contract workers, partners of firms and anyone in vocational training as well as employees.

How is the Act enforced?

Where a provision of the Act is contravened proceedings can be brought through the Civil Courts. If the claim arises out of the employment of a person a claim can be brought in an Employment Tribunal.

A wide range of remedies are available to the Civil Courts and Employment Tribunals including the power to award compensation for injured feelings and to make recommendations to reduce discrimination in the workplace.

Normally claims brought in the Civil Courts will have to be brought within 6 years of the date of the act to which the claim relates and within 3 months in the case of claims brought in an Employment Tribunal.