The Equality Act in 5-ish Minutes

The Equality Act in 5-ish Minutes

At the end of this podcast, you will understand what the Equality Act is, how it impacts employers specifically, who it protects and what it prohibits.


Hello and thank you for clicking on this podcast, The Equality Act for Employers in Five-ish Minutes. My name is Rebecca and I’m a solicitor in the Acuity Employment Team. If you have clicked on this podcast, I imagine you’ve been drawn in the promise of expertise in the time it takes to boil a kettle. While I can’t promise that at the end of this podcast you’ll be an expert, you’ll certainly understand what the Equality Act is, how it impacts employers specifically, who it protects and what it prohibits, as well as, hopefully, a nice cup of tea. So that’s 30 seconds gone already, I better get a move on.

The Equality Act became law in 2010 and basically amalgamated a whole host of existing equality legislation under one roof. Employers must make sure they comply with the Equality Act and take all reasonable steps to make sure their employees comply with the Equality Act too.

The simplest way by far to demonstrate as an employer that you are taking steps to comply with the Equality Act in your workplace is to train your staff. As you’ll no doubt already be aware, Acuity are able to deliver bespoke Equality Act in-house training for your employees.

In very simple terms, the Equality Act says you must not treat someone badly because of, or in connection with a protected characteristic. Now there are nine protected characteristics, being:

  1. Age: that’s old or young;
  2. Sex: Man or woman only, despite other genders now being recognised;
  3. Race, which includes colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins and may also include caste;
  4. Disability, meaning someone who has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities;
  5. Religion or belief. Meaning any religion, but what constitutes a protected belief is often the subject of debate. For example, veganism was recently recognised by tribunals as being a protected belief but vegetarianism was not;
  6. Pregnancy or maternity. This protection applies from when the pregnancy starts and ends when the woman’s additional maternity leave ends or when she returns to work.
  7. Gender reassignment. Being proposing to undergo, undergoing or having undergone a process or part of a process for the purpose of reassigning someone’s sex. That’s the case whether or not that process is supported by medical intervention;
  8. Sexual orientation, defined as a persons’ sexual orientation towards persons of the same sex, persons of the opposite sex, or persons of either sex. And finally;
  9. Marriage or civil partnership. Now, single people and people in relationships outside of marriage or civil partnerships do not have this characteristic, and neither do divorcees or people whose civil partnerships have been dissolved.

The Equality Act says you Cannot treat someone less favourably because of a protected characteristic. So you can’t dismiss someone because they are a woman. this is called direct discrimination. Note the phrase is ‘less favourably’, so the person complaining of direct discrimination needs to identify a comparator who does not have the protected characteristic.

Indirect discrimination, which is another thing prohibited by the act, can occur when there is provision, criteria or practice which appears to apply to everyone but disadvantages a particular group more than others. For example, having a policy that prohibits jewellery in the workplace could particularly disadvantage those who wish to wear a Christian cross as part of how they express their religion. Employers can potentially justify a policy such as this as being a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, for example, if not wearing jewellery is a health and safety requirement.

Harassment, also prohibited by the act, is something slightly different. Someone can be harassed by conduct that is unwanted, relates to a protected characteristic, whether or not the person has that protected characteristic, and the conduct has the purpose has the effect of intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.

For example, I am not Muslim, but I could nonetheless find unwanted comments made by a colleague about people of the Islamic faith offensive.

Victimisation, also prohibited, is being treated unfavourably because you have raised a complaint of, for example, discrimination or harassment. This would include being overlooked for a promotion because you raised a grievance.

There are two specific additional protections for disabled people, those being the right not to be treated unfavourably because of something arising out of a disability, and the requirement for the employer to make reasonable adjustments.

In terms of being treated unfavourably because of something rising out of a disability, this would include dismissing someone because of their high level of absence but when those absences are actually because of a disability. In terms of failure to make reasonable adjustments, if for example someone with a hearing impairment needed a hearing loop, a reasonable adjustment would be to install that hearing loop.

It is important to note that the Equality Act covers situations where someone is treated less favourably because they are perceived as having a certain protected characteristic. For example, dismissing someone because you think they are gay, when actual fact they’re straight.

It also covers situations where someone is treated less favourably because of their association with someone who has a protected characteristic. For example, overlooking someone for promotion because they have a disabled child and you think they’ll be less flexible because of this.

And that’s it! And I’m over five minutes so all I’ll say is if you want to learn more, We have plenty of resources available on our website and the Employment Team is always happy to talk through the trickier areas with you if you’d like to get in touch. So thanks for listening!

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