Last Updated: Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Equality Act (2010)

What is this?

​The Equality Act (2010) harmonises and replaces previous legislation (such as the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995). The Equality Act (2010) covers:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity.

These are called ‘protected characteristics’. The Act extends some protections to characteristics that were not previously covered, and also strengthens particular aspects of equality law.

Who is this for?

​All practitioners

​Explore the Equality Act (2010)

The Equality Act (2010) prohibits discrimination (whether direct or indirect) against people who possess one of the protected characteristics, listed above. It also prohibits the harassment and victimisation of such people.

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

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.

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.

Reflective questions

  • Is someone being treated unfairly because of who they are?
  • Can a person be treated unfairly if they are related to someone who has a protected characteristic?
  • Does the law protect me if I have claimed about discrimination?

Link(s) to full research article

The Equality Act (2010)