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The Equality Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against people with a Protected Characteristic. Prior to the act, this would have been known as discrimination grounds.

There are 9 protected characteristics and we will look at each one in turn. However, you need to be aware that not all types of discrimination apply to all of the protected characteristics as previously discussed

Before the 2010 Act, employers were already prevented from saying without any justification that an applicant was too old or too young for a job. The effect of the Act is to underline the unlawfulness of discriminating on the basis of age.

However, if an employer can justify the reasons for treating someone differently because of their age, this is not considered to be unlawful, it is neither direct nor indirect discrimination.

An example where it would not be considered as discrimination, would be where an employer refuses to consider a job applicant on the basis of age, as the applicant is too young, since the role reasonably calls for an amount of experience and it is not viable to provide training, this would not be classed as unlawful.

Employers are permitted to use a default retirement age of 65 when writing contracts of employment, so a worker’s employment is automatically fairly terminated when this age is reached.

However, the government has announced the end of the legal default retirement age, so the full effect of this on age discrimination is yet to be determined.


With Disability, The Act says that a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental disability which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Disabled people have been protected by the UK for some time before the 2010 Act came into effect. However, the act included the requirement for an employer to make reasonable adjustments to enable a disabled person to work for them.

Under the 2010 Act indirect discrimination, associative discrimination and perceptive discrimination all became unlawful in relation to disabled people and discrimination arising from a disability is forbidden.Within this area of the Act, falls the matter of pre-employment health questions, the use of which is now limited to certain circumstances only.

Such circumstances include the use of questions to determine whether reasonable adjustments are needed for a new employee. These types of questions are less restricted once a job offer has been made.

The Act gives protection against direct discrimination to women who are pregnant or on maternity leave during the period of pregnancy and during statutory maternity leave.

When making a decision about a woman’s employment, an employer is not permitted to take into account a period of absence due to pregnancy-related illness.In a non-working context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, and this includes treating woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.

Marriage And Civil Partnership, same-sex couples can have their relationships legally recognised as civil partnerships by law. Civil partners must be treated the same as married couples. The 2010 Act makes it unlawful to discriminate directly or indirectly against people who are married or in a civil partnership.

Gender Reassignment, this is the process of transitioning from gender to another, it can involve a person changing their personal identity documentation, living and working in their new gender role and eventually seeking and receiving gender reassignment treatment.

Employers must consider people who are proposing to, are starting or have completed a process to change gender, known as transgender people.

Transsexuals are not the same as transgender people and do not come within the scope of the Act. This is because transsexuals do not intend to live permanently in their opposite gender.Before the 2010 Act, it was necessary for a person to be under medical supervision towards gender change if they were to be protected by the law, but this provision has been removed.

Indirect discrimination, associative discrimination and perceptive discrimination are all unlawful in relation to transsexual people as a result of the 2010 Act.An example of where discrimination would be found is where a transsexual person was absent from work because they were undergoing gender reassignment. It would be discrimination if the employer was to treat that person less favourably than if they were absent from work because of sickness or injury.

Within the Act, ‘race’ includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins. It is unlawful for employers to discriminate in any way on the grounds of a person’s race. With Religion Or Belief, an employer must be aware that people are protected against all types of discrimination on the grounds of their religion or beliefs, or the absence of these.

The Act says that to be protected a religion must have a clear structure and belief system and a belief satisfy various criteria. Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition. A point to note is that there is no protection for political beliefs.

It is unlawful to treat someone less favourably on the basis of their sex.Everyone has the right not be discriminated against due to their sex. There have been numerous sexual equality laws over the year in respect of this discrimination, the act applies for protection against all types of discriminatory actions.

People are protected against all types of discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation. This means those who are bisexual, gay, heterosexual and lesbian. Again we have talked about the act in relation to a work environment but think about your own personal interactions and think if you have ever behaved differently to a person because of their religion or belief or because of their physical appearance.