The Equality Act: What you need to know

All staff are created equal…

In today’s job market, companies are continually striving to achieve social and political consciousness and responsibility. And a big part of that comes down to ensuring equality is observed across all their departments.

To help you see exactly what’s covered, here’s everything you need to know about the Equality Act – and what it means when it comes to your career:


What is The Equality Act 2010?

The Equality Act, set out in 2010, is a piece of legislation that aims to protect all individuals from discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace – as well as their lives in general.

Covered as part of the act are various protected characteristics ranging from age and religion, through to gender, sexual orientation and disabilities.


What are protected characteristics?

There are nine main areas which the Equality Act covers – known as ‘protected characteristics’.

These include:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender reassignment
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Disability


1. Age

Ageism in the workplace can come in many forms. The Equality Act makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against any member of their workforce on the basis of their age.

Examples of direct and indirect age discrimination:

  • Treating someone differently based on their age
  • Dismissing an older worker because of their age
  • Paying a young worker below the national minimum wage


2. Sex

Sex or gender discrimination is protected under The Equality Act 2010 – ensuring employees are covered against direct and indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment in all circumstances.

Examples of direct and indirect gender discrimination:

  • Preventing promotion opportunities for workers based on gender
  • Being taken advantage of for raising a complaint in regards to sexual bias
  • Unequal pay


3. Sexual Orientation

As a protected characteristic, a person’s sexual orientation is safeguarded by the act – whether they’re bisexual, homosexual, heterosexual or otherwise.

Examples of direct and indirect sexual orientation discrimination:

  • Not hiring someone based on their sexual orientation
  • Talking about a colleagues perceived sexual orientation
  • Revealing an individual’s sexual orientation without their consent


4. Gender reassignment

As part of the act, those who have had gender reassignment surgery (or are thinking about doing so) are protected from discrimination.

The Equality Act 2010 does not include those who identify as transgender – although various changes have been proposed which would cover these individuals, meaning they could still be incorporated in the future.

Examples of direct and indirect gender reassignment discrimination:

  • Being treated differently due to absence before, during or after reassignment
  • Not receiving sick pay from an employer regarding complications after surgery
  • Ridicule from colleagues regarding the gender reassignment procedure


5. Race

Racial discrimination legislation outlined in the Equality Act prevents companies from treating employees and jobseekers differently because of their racial or ethnic background.

Examples of direct and indirect race discrimination:

  • Racial slurs
  • Creating salary brackets based on ethnic background
  • Neglect from a superior in regards to your complaint of racial abuse


6. Religion

A person’s religious beliefs are also covered by the act, meaning that employers are required to allow their employees to observe certain religious practices. It also protects those who have no particular religious beliefs.

Examples of direct and indirect religious discrimination:

  • Placing job adverts for individuals of a sole religion
  • Not allowing employees to carry out certain religious practices
  • Being denied a job opportunity within your skillset because of your religious beliefs


7. Marriage

Marriage and civil partnership protection prevents employers from denying staff and job seekers from specific opportunities and entitlements due to marital/civil partnership status.

Examples of direct and indirect marriage and civil partnership discrimination:

  • Dismissal of post due to fear of newly married employee taking time off work
  • Placing job adverts for individuals who are single
  • Being excluded from team events due to marital status


8. Pregnancy

Similarly, the Equality Act 2010 aims to stop any unfair treatment to women in the workplace who are pregnant and have maternity entitlements.

Examples of direct and indirect pregnancy and maternity discrimination

  • Stopping a worker’s potential promotion due to an impending maternity leave
  • Choosing to make an employee redundant soon after announcing her pregnancy
  • Delaying training opportunities process due to concerns around pregnancy

Maternity and paternity leave: What you need to know


9. Disability

Under the Equality Act 2010, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to carry out your daily activities.

It’s unlawful for someone to treat an individual less favourably than another because of their disability and so, organisations must make reasonable adjustments to protect the wellbeing of their workers.

Examples of direct and indirect disability discrimination:

  • An employer refusing to enable wheelchair/lift access
  • Not providing employees with disabled parking
  • Not offering reasonable adjustments to equipment, if required


How are you protected by the Equality Act?

If you feel you’ve been the victim of some form of discrimination at work, always speak to your employer first to resolve any issues.

If the problem persists, then a claim can be taken to an employment tribunal, who will review your case(s) on an individual basis. However, it’s important to note that a fee will be incurred to file these claims.

Additionally, it’s important to note that there are limited exceptions for all protected characteristics that could allow for certain behaviours to be deemed acceptable in the workplace. For more detailed information on these exceptions, visit


Where can I get more advice on equality?

Acas have a lengthy section on equality and discrimination, providing relevant advice as well as working examples of different discriminatory scenarios in the workplace.

Similarly, Citizens Advice have a dedicated contact service, which allows you to speak to their agents directly and seek advice on your next steps. This is especially important if you feel you’ve been discriminated against, or need some guidance to support your claim(s).


Please note, the information outlined above is intended for general guidance purposes only, and is subject to change.



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