Equality and diversity in the workplace: an overview of the Equality Act 2010



For anyone wishing to understand more about their legal rights and obligations regarding equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, a good starting point will always be the Equality Act 2010 (“the Equality Act”). 

The UK’s primary legal framework for protecting individual rights and preventing unfair and discriminatory treatment, the Equality Act combines over 100 pieces of historic legislation (including the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007) into one Act.

Through the creation of nine “protected characteristics”, the Equality Act strives to eliminate discrimination and help the UK become a fairer, more equitable society.


The protected characteristics

Pursuant to the Equality Act, any unfair treatment or discrimination that occurs because a person possesses one or more of the following protected characteristics is unlawful:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Marriage or Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation


Types of discrimination

The Equality Act describes 4 key types of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination– If a person is treated worse than others because they have any of the protected characteristics.  
  • Indirect discrimination– For example, if a workplace policy or way of working is introduced which has a worse impact on someone with a protected characteristic than someone without one. 
  • Harassment– If someone is treated in a way that violates their dignity or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. 
  • Victimisation– If someone is unfairly treated after submitting or supporting a complaint regarding protected characteristic-related discrimination under the Equality Act.


It is important to note that there are also other types of discrimination, specific to certain characteristics.  For example, a failure to make reasonable adjustments, which arises if an employer does not ensure that a disabled employee can access the same services and opportunities that a non-disabled employee would. 

Employers should ensure that they are aware of all of the different types of discrimination outlined in the Equality Act so that they are able to take swift action to protect their employees should any one of them occur.


Public Sector Equality Duty

The Equality Act imposes an additional specific legal equality duty on all employers in the public sector (including local councils, schools, the NHS and publicly-funded service providers) which requires them to consider how their decisions and policies affect people with different protected characteristics.

The public body also should have evidence to show how it has done this. 


At Swinburne Maddison LLP, our specialist Employment team can offer practical advice on a comprehensive range of workplace issues, from assisting employers with the development of robust working practices to advising employees on discrimination claims.

To discuss any of the issues raised in this article, or for further advice and support in relation to any Employment or HR matter, please contact Jonathan Moreland by email at jmm@swinburnemaddison.co.uk or by telephone on 0191 384 2441.


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