Equality Act

  • Equality & Diversity
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

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In the guide, we'll look at what the Equality Act is, what the law covers, and how to comply with your legal obligations.

One of the most important employment laws every business must comply with is the Equality Act 2010.

This piece of legislation covers all kinds of work areas - from onboarding processes to reasonable adjustments. If you ignore any part of the act, you could end up facing discrimination claims, compensation penalties, and even company losses.

In the guide, we'll look at what the Equality Act is, what the law covers, and how to comply with your legal obligations.

What is the Equality Act 2010?

The Equality Act 2010 is a piece of legislation that protects people from unlawful discrimination.

It was first introduced in October 2010 as a single act, and brought previous legislation together like:

  • The Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
  • The Race Relations Act 1976.
  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The act now covers what discrimination is, when it's illegal, and how it can help advance equality in the workplace and beyond.

What does the Equality Act 2010 cover?

The Equality Act protects people from several unfavourable treatment. Let's look at what it covers:

  • Direct discrimination: This is when a person is treated unfairly due to protected characteristics.
  • Indirect discrimination: This is when a provision, criterion, or practice (PCP) puts a person or group at an unfair disadvantage due to protected characteristics.
  • Harassment: This is when a person faces inappropriate behaviour or suffers in an offensive environment due to protected characteristics.
  • Victimisation: This is when a person is treated unfairly for raising a complaint about unlawful discrimination relating to protected characteristics.

What is a protected characteristic?

A protected characteristic is a feature or attribute that's safeguarded from unfavourable treatment. There are nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act. Let's dive deeper into each one:


Age discrimination is when a person is treated unfairly due to their age group. For example, an older employee is forced to take voluntary redundancy because they're close to their retirement age.


Disability discrimination is when a person faces less favourable treatment because of a physical or mental health condition. For example, a company doesn't invite disabled people to a public function due to lack of mobility access.

Gender reassignment

Gender reassignment discrimination is when a person faces unlawful treatment due to being trans. For example, a school refuses to promote a teacher because they identify as transgender.

Marriage and civil partnership

Marriage and civil partnership discrimination is when a person is treated unfairly because they're married. For example, a female employee is denied night shifts because their manager believes she should be home with her family in the evenings.

Pregnancy and maternity

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is when a person faces less favourable treatment due to being pregnant or on maternity leave. For example, a female employee is denied training opportunities because she’s pregnant.


Race discrimination is when a person faces unlawful treatment because of their ethnicity, nationality, or national origin. For example, not allowing international candidates to work in UK government departments.

Religion or belief

Religion or belief discrimination is when a person is treated unfairly due to their faith or personal creed. For example, a Muslim employee is discouraged from wearing their headscarf because it's not part of the dress code.


Sex discrimination is when a person faces less favourable treatment because of their biological sex (i.e., male or female). For example, a company has an obvious gender pay gap between its female and male employees within the exact same role.

Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation discrimination is when a person faces unlawful treatment due to their sexual identity. For example, a manager makes fun of an employee who's recently opened up about being gay.

Are there legal exceptions under the Equality Act?

Yes, the Equality Act does have certain exceptions under employment law. Let's look at a few of them:

  • Objective justification (OJ): This is when a discriminatory act has a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, asking employees not to wear jewellery (including religious necklaces) due to health & safety risks.
  • Positive discrimination: This is when you provide opportunities for those with inaccessibility or underrepresentation issues. For example, hiring more people from ethnic minorities to boost diversity and inclusion numbers.
  • Occupational requirement: This is when you have a genuine reason to discriminate against a person or group. For example, a domestic violence shelter only hires female employees to help safeguard victims.

How to comply with the Equality Act in your workplace

Every employer must keep compliance with the Equality Act, protected characteristics, and other relevant laws.

It's not just about discrimination; the Equality Act protects vulnerable employees, provides equal opportunities, and encourages a safe workplace environment. Let's take a look at ways to comply with the Equality Act in the workplace:

Create an anti-discrimination policy

The first step employers should take is to create an anti-discrimination policy. This is a statement that highlights your company's promise towards creating a workplace free of discrimination - including harassment, victimisation, and bullying.

The main aim of the policy is to let employees know what is regarded as acceptable conduct at work. And equally, what are the consequences for breaching these company rules.

Provide equality and diversity training

The next step involves providing equality and diversity training. This presents managers with the knowledge, skills, and expertise needed to promote an inclusive workspace.

From selection processes to redundancies, this training is applicable in all work areas. If you can, offer this training to all employees - regardless of position or status.

Review your workplace procedures

You can promote their equality duty through their people and departments. It's commonly done through workplace practices, customs, and procedures.

Employers should review these to help equality in the workplace. Make sure you deal with any work areas that cause direct or indirect discrimination against any protected characteristic.

What is a public sector equality duty?

A public sector equality duty is an obligation some businesses have when it comes to equality laws. It applies to public bodies, like the local council or government departments.

Under the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011, public bodies are required to publish relevant, proportionate information showing duty compliance. They're also obliged to set equality objectives whilst carrying out public functions for other companies.

Get expert advice on the Equality Act with Peninsula

It's important for employers to consider all aspects of the equality act, and every protected characteristic.

This includes age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation. If you ignore any, you could end up facing discrimination claims, paying compensation, and causing business losses.

Peninsula offers expert advice on the Equality Act. Our teams offer 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our HR experts.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 029 4377 and book a free consultation with an employment lawyer today.


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