An introduction to the Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010) simplified and replaced a swathe 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, which came into force on 1 October 2010, defines the various kinds of discrimination by reference to characteristics which are protected under the Act.

What types of characteristics are protected by EqA 2010?

EqA 2010 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of the following 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?

EqA 2010 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 s/he treats or would treat others not possessing the protected characteristic. Examples of less favourable treatment include:

  • segregating a person from others by reason of their race;
  • discriminating against a woman who is breast-feeding.

Certain conduct which on the face of it would amount to direct discrimination is, however, permitted by EqA 2010. For example, it 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 a 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.

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.

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 EqA 2010;
  • the doing of something for the purposes of or in connection with EqA 2010. This will include committing a breach of an equality clause or rule;
  • made an allegation that a person has contravened EqA 2010.

However, the giving of false evidence or information, or the making of a false allegation is not protected by EqA 2010 if it is given or made in bad faith.

In what circumstances will the Act apply?

The Act covers a wide range of circumstances and contains detailed provisions prohibiting discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the following situations:

  • where services are provided to the public;
  • in relation to the disposal, occupation and management of premises;
  • in the workplace;
  • in schools and further and higher education institutions;
  • in relation to associations.

EqA 2010 also places obligations on the public sector to advance equality, contains detailed provisions relating to transport for disabled persons and places obligations on employers and service providers to make reasonable adjustments to cater for disabled persons.

How are the provisions of EqA 2010 enforced?

Where a provision of EqA 2010 is contravened, proceedings can be brought through the civil courts. If the claim arises out of someone’s employment, a case can be brought before an employment tribunal.

A 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 have to be brought within six years of the date of the act to which the claim relates and within three months for claims brought in an employment tribunal.