• Startups
  • October 27, 2021

A Guide To The Equality Act 2010

Regardless of how big  your business is, it is important to understand the scope and powers of the Equality Act 2010, ensuring you put in place adequate policies and procedures to ensure people are treated fairly at all times. 

The risks of not adhering to the Equality Act 2010 include claims being brought against your organisation, and in some cases, serious reputational damage. According to the Ministry of Justice, there were 160 cases for discrimination for which compensation was awarded in 2020, with age discrimination awards averaging around £39,000 and the maximum costs award being £266,000.

In this article, we will explain what you should know about the Equality Act 2010, why it was introduced, who the Act affects, and the characteristics protected under the Act.

What is the Equality Act of 2010, and why does it matter? 

The main purpose of the Equality Act 2010 is to uphold the rights of individuals, protect them from unfair treatment due to a perceived protected characteristic (see below for more details) and increase equal opportunity. It provides a basic framework for how people should be protected against discrimination (both direct and indirect), harassment and victimisation.  

The Equality Act 2010 introduction

Before 2010, laws relating to equality were spread across over 116 separate pieces of legislation, including areas such as sex, race, discrimination, sexual orientation, religion or belief and age. Due to the complexity this created, the Equality Act was introduced in October 2010 to bring these together in a single piece of legislation. Some of the items of legislation that were brought together to form the Equality Act 2010 include:

Main points of the Equality Act 2010

  • the Act protects people from discrimination, harassment and victimisation
  • it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of a protected characteristic (there are nine protected characteristics listed below)
  • it is unfair to discriminate against a person because they are wrongly perceived to have a particular characteristic or due to their association with someone with a protected characteristic

Who does the Equality Act 2010 apply to?

Anyone is protected from discrimination in a range of settings, including
  • the workplace
  • public services such as a hospital or GP surgery, school or another educational setting, library, etc
  • public bodies such as local authorities or government departments
  • business or other privately-owned organisations (e.g. shops and restaurants)
  • transport
  • clubs and associations

Types of discrimination which the Equality Act 2010 cover

The Equality Act 2010 covers four types of discrimination in any of the above settings:
  • direct discrimination: when an individual is personally discriminated against 
  • indirect discrimination: occurs when a policy or rule affects a wider group of people (e.g. all employees), but some people are more unfairly affected than others  
  • harassment: occurs when a person’s dignity is violated due to hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive actions
  • victimisation: whereby a person is unfairly treated because they are taking action under the Equality Act or supporting another person taking action under the Act

How does the Equality Act 2010 affect businesses?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits businesses from discriminating against, harassing and victimising certain classes of persons, whether those people are members of the public, members of staff, paying customers, visitors, or prospective clients. It also places an obligation on businesses to put in place ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with a disability. 

In some cases, however, it may be permissible to make decisions that impact one group of people over another, such as when providing facilities such as changing rooms.  

The Equality Act 2010 Protected Characteristics

There are nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 are (in no certain order):
  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Disabilities covered under the Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 states that a person is considered to be disabled if they have “a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities”.

‘Substantial’ in this sense means “more than minor or trivial” and covers disabilities that may cause a person significant impact. ‘Long-term’ refers to conditions which last 12 months or more.  

People with progressive conditions which cause disability are also covered by the Act (this may include conditions such as cancer or multiple sclerosis).  

How does the Equality Act 2010 prevent discrimination?

The Equality Act 2010 prevents discrimination because it provides a legal framework that businesses can adhere to when putting in place policies, procedures and making decisions.  It also provides legal protection for those who are discriminated against, allowing them to bring a claim for compensation.

Why engage a specialist in employment law?

We often find that businesses who believe that they have considered all aspects of the Equality Act 2010 have missed vital elements which need consideration, or they have a risk that has gone unnoticed. Likewise, if your business is facing legal action due to discrimination, a specialist in employment law can recommend strategies to minimise any impact and, where possible, use alternative dispute resolution (such as mediation, negotiation, or arbitration) methods to find an effective solution which satisfies all parties.

Wrapping up:

No matter how large or small your business size is, you need to ensure you understand the Equality Act 2010 in order to put in place the right policies and procedures to make sure that the people who work for your company are treated fairly. You will need to:

  1. review your current policies and procedures to ensure they adhere to the Equality Act 2010
  2. provide regular training to all staff on the Equality Act 2010, clearly outlining the standards of conduct your business expects
  3. put in place an equality team whose role it is to review all aspects of your business on a periodic basis and to put in place a risk register to manage any actions which are needed
  4. have a clear process in place that will allow any concerns of discrimination to be flagged, escalated, and resolved quickly and ensure changes are made to prevent any reoccurrence

Get Legal Advice from LawBite

Discrimination in the workplace can be challenging and you might need legal advice to put your best interests first. 

If you have any questions regarding the Equality Act 2010 or believe that one of your employees has been discriminated against or has a claim against your company, our employment lawyers are here ready to give you urgent employment advice.

Additional useful information

In closing

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice on which you should rely. The article is provided for general information purposes only. Professional legal advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to or relying on the content of this article. Our Platform Terms of Use apply to this article.

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