- Protect people from discrimination
- promote equality for everybody
- bring together, simplify and harmonise earlier anti-discrimination laws
Its main provisions came into force on 1st October 2010, and it replaces earlier equality legislation. It provides a single legal framework for tackling disadvantage and discrimination.
Its provisions came into force in stages, and at the start of 2014 it was decided that some of them will not be implemented.
The Act provides protection from unlawful discrimination and harassment to groups and individuals on the grounds of what it defines as the “protected characteristics” of:
- Age: a person belonging to a particular age (for example 32 year olds) or range of ages (for example 18 – 30 year olds)
- Disability: where a person has a disability if s/he 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. (However, please see Different ‘models’ of disability)
- Gender reassignment: the process of transitioning from one gender to the other.
- Marriage and civil partnership: since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passed on 17th July 2013, civil marriage in England and Wales can be between a woman and a man or between two people of the same sex. Same-sex couples can also have their relationships legally recognised as ‘civil partnerships’. Civil partners must be treated the same as married couples on a wide range of legal matters.
- Pregnancy and maternity: pregnancy is the condition of being pregnant or expecting a baby. Maternity refers to the period after the birth, and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context. In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, and this includes treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.
- Race: refers to a group of people defined by their race, colour, and nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origins.
- Religion and belief: religion has the meaning usually given to it. Belief includes religious and philosophical beliefs including lack of belief (for example atheism or humanism). Generally, a belief should affect somebody’s life choices or the way they live for it to be included in the definition.
- Sex: being a man or a woman
- Sexual orientation: whether a person’s sexual attraction is towards their own sex, the opposite sex or to both sexes.
The Act applies to:
- the provision of services and public functions
- access to and use of premises
- associations, including political parties.
Key forms of discrimination
In brief, the key forms of discrimination in the Act are:
- Direct discrimination: where someone is treated less favourably than another person because of a protected characteristic
- Associative discrimination: direct discrimination against someone because they are associated with another person who has a protected characteristic
- Discrimination by perception: direct discrimination against someone because others think they have a protected characteristic
- Indirect discrimination: occurs when there is a rule or policy that apparently applies to everyone but disadvantages people with a particular protected characteristic
- Harassment: employees can complain of behaviour they find offensive even if it is not directed at them
- Victimisation: where someone is treated badly because they have made or supported a complaint or grievance under the Act