The Equality Act 2010: Discrimination on the Grounds of Marriage or Civil Partnership

What does the Equality Act say?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination, both direct and indirect, and victimisation on the grounds that the individual is married or in a civil partnership.

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination occurs when someone treats another person less favourably than they treat (or would treat) a single person, on the grounds that they are married or in a civil partnership. Examples of direct discrimination include where, for example, an employer does not promote an employee who has recently married in case they plan to start a family – and take time off work.

Whilst the 2010 Act does not prohibit the harassment of a married person or a civil partner, in some circumstances it could amount to discrimination. However, direct discrimination is permitted if the conduct amounts to a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination on grounds of marriage/civil partnership takes place where a provision, criterion or practice, puts someone who is married or in a civil partnership at a disadvantage. For example, a ban on recruiting people who have children may disadvantage married job applicants.

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

What is victimisation?

Victimisation occurs where someone is subjected to a detriment by reason of the fact that they have (or it is believed they have) carried out one of the following:

  • brought or given evidence or information in proceedings brought under the 2010 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, if false evidence or information is given, or a false allegation is made in bad faith, it will not be protected by the Act.

Who does the Act protect?

The Act only protects those who are married or in a civil partnership from discrimination on grounds of marriage of civil partnership. It does not protect single people, or those associated with someone who is married or in a civil partnership (eg. such as their relatives). Not does it apply to someone who is divorced or whose civil partnership has been dissolved, or to someone living with their partner.

In what circumstances does the Act apply?

The provisions only protect those who are married or in a civil partnership in the workplace.
Note that the Act applies to all aspects of employment, including recruitment, terms and conditions of employment, training, promotions and transfers, dismissals, redundancy and retirement; and it applies to contract workers, partners of firms and anyone in vocational training as well as employees.

Married employees and employees in civil partnerships are to 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.

How is the Act enforced?

Where there is discrimination in breach of the Act, proceedings can be brought in the County Court. If the claim arises out of the employment of the individual discriminated against, they can bring their claim in the Employment Tribunal.

In terms of time limits, proceedings must be commenced in the County Ccourt within 6 years of the date of the relevant incident/conduct. Employment claims must be brought within 3 months.

A wide range of remedies are available in the county court and employment tribunal, including the power to award compensation for injured feelings, and to make recommendations to reduce discrimination in the workplace.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.