The Equality Act: What You Need To Know

Posted 3 years ago •


The Equality Act came into law in 2010 by the UK government protecting people from discrimination, harassment and victimisation within the workplace and in wider society.

Protected characteristics

Under the Equality Act, there are nine characteristics protecting everyone in Britain against discrimination:

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

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is the act of treating a person unfairly because of who they are or because they possess certain characteristics, as seen above. But four key types are defined in UK law:

  • Direct discrimination – treating someone negatively or less favourably due to one or more of the protected characteristics
  • Indirect discrimination – where company rules or other policies that apply to everyone put a person with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage.
  • Harassment – creating an offensive environment or violating someone’s dignity through unwanted behaviour
  • Victimisation – treating someone unfairly because they’ve previously made an accusation or complained about discrimination

Under the terms of the Act, you are protected from discrimination in these situations/environments:

  • The workplace
  • In any educational institution
  • When using any public services
  • As a consumer
  • When buying or renting property
  • As a member or guest of a private club or association

Equality in the workplace legislation

The Act protects you against any discrimination within the workplace at all stages of employment. This includes, recruitment, pay, working hours, training, promotions, dismissal or redundancy.

During your recruitment process, it is against the law for an employer or interviewer to ask you questions about your protected characteristics. This means you cannot be asked questions about health, sex, religion, marital status or disabilities, unless it is a mandatory pre-requirement of the job.

Employees and employers should be aware of what the Equality Act 2010 means in practice and how it applies within the workplace.

Duties of your employer

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that discrimination does not occur within the business. It is their duty to not discriminate on the grounds of any of the protected characteristics included within the legislation, whether that’s regarding salary, gender, ethnic background or religion. If in any doubt, always consult the government’s guidelines or your HR department.

It's important to know your rights in the workplace especially when it comes to mental health. Everyone should feel safe and supported to talk about their mental health at work. Remember if you have any mental health issues, it’s important to talk to your employer so they know how best to support you.


Mental health problems affect one in four of us, but many feel isolated, ashamed and worthless. Time to Talk Day encourages everyone to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, to change lives.  If you need support, visit time to change.

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