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”):
marriage and civil partnership;
pregnancy and maternity;
religion or belief;
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.
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. This will include committing a breach of an equality clause or rule;
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.
In what circumstances will the Act apply?
The Act covers a wide range of circumstances and contained 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.
The Act 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 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.
When will the remaining provisions of the Act come into force?
The coalition government has said that it will not implement the gender pay reporting measures while it is working with business to encourage the publication of equality workforce data on a voluntary basis.
It has also said that it will not be implementing the provisions relating to socio-economic duties of public bodies.
The government is currently considering how to implement a number of other provisions contained in the Act, which have yet to come into force.