EQUALITY ACT 2010 – Introduction
The Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”) protects people from discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics (see below) and strengthens equality law by:
• introducing a new public sector duty to consider reducing socioeconomic inequalities
• putting a new integrated Equality Duty on public bodies
• using public procurement to improve equality
• requiring gender pay and employment equality publishing
• banning discrimination in private members clubs
• extending the scope to use positive action
• giving employment tribunals powers to make recommendations in more cases.
These measures are outside the scope of this information sheet which is primarily concerned with anti-discrimination laws as they apply to service providers and employers.
The Act defines “protected characteristics” (PCs) and makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of a PC i.e.
Service providers must not discriminate on the grounds of disability, age, gender, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity when providing goods, facilities or services to the public.
Discrimination by a service provider on the basis of a PC means:
• refusing to provide a service
• providing a lower standard of service
• offering a service on different terms than would be offered to other people
Employers’ obligations under the Act are largely the same as in previous legislation. It is unlawful for them to discriminate against any job applicant or employee on the basis of any PC listed above. This would apply, for example, in offering employment, terms of employment or access to opportunities for promotion, transfer or training as well as to redundancy and retirement.
Employers are also responsible for the discriminatory acts of their employees during the course of employment even where such acts were done without their knowledge or authority.
Discrimination against a person on the basis of a PC can be any of the following types:
Direct discrimination (Applies to all PCs)
Direct discrimination occurs when someone is treated less favourably than another person because they have a PC or they are treated less favourably because they associate with someone who has a PC.(see associative discrimination below) It is also direct discrimination to
treat someone less favourably because they are thought to have a PC (see Discrimination by perception below)
Indirect discrimination (Applies to all PCs except Pregnancy and maternity)
Indirect discrimination can occur where people who share a PC are particularly disadvantaged by provisions, criteria or practices that apply to everyone. Any indirect discrimination can be justified if it is shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Associative discrimination (Applies to all PCs except Marriage & civil partnership, Pregnancy & maternity)
This is a form of direct discrimination against someone because they associate with another person who has a PC. For example, discrimination might occur where a carer of a disabled person is treated less favourably because of their caring duties.
Discrimination by perception (Applies to all PCs except Marriage & civil partnership, Pregnancy & maternity)
This is direct discrimination against individuals because others perceive them to have a particular PC. It applies even if the individual does not possess that PC.
Harassment (Applies to all PCs except Marriage & civil partnership, Pregnancy & maternity)
Harassment is unwanted conduct, including that of a sexual nature, related to a relevant PC which has the purpose or effect of violating the victim’s dignity or creating for that person an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
“Unwanted conduct” can include any kind of behaviour, including spoken or written words or abuse, imagery, graffiti, physical gestures, facial expressions, mimicry, jokes, pranks, acts affecting a person’s surroundings or other physical behaviour.
Harassment by a third part (Applies to all PCs except Marriage & civil partnership, Pregnancy & maternity)
The Act makes employers potentially liable for harassment of their employees by third parties such as representatives or customers. Liability only arises where there has been at least two previous incidents of harassment, the employer is aware that they have taken place and no reasonable steps were taken to stop them occurring again. It does not have to be the same person harassing the worker on each occasion.
Victimization (Applies to all PCs)
Victimization occurs where an individual is subjected to a detriment for bringing proceedings under the Act, giving evidence in support of proceedings or making allegations about contraventions of the Act. A person is not protected from victimization if false evidence or allegations are made in bad faith.
The Government’s Equality Office (GEO) has produced a series of summary guides and “Quick Start” guides to the key changes in the law – Equality Act 2010; “What do I need to know” can be viewed and downloaded at http://www.equalities.gov.uk
Advice and guidance can also be obtained from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in regard to service providers – http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/legal-and-policy/equality-act/ and ACAS in regard to employers – www.acas.org.uk
The Act provides a process for people who think they may have been treated unlawfully to obtain information about possible discrimination, harassment, victimization or other prohibited conduct and about equality of terms (equal pay) complaints. This works through two sets of forms, one for discrimination or other prohibited conduct and the other for complaints about equality of terms. More information about the forms with guidance for both parties involved can be obtained from GEO (see above)
The Act covers England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland has its own equality legislation.
All PBS information sheets are designed to provide the detail you need to implement best business and employment practices. They are not a detailed commentary on the current law and where advice is needed in a specific case you should contact PBS for expert consultation.