The UK Equality Act 2010 is a major piece of legislation which collects together all of the existing anti-discrimination laws and which has introduced several new areas which give rights to employees, some of which could cause major problems for business owners and managers.
Most of the Act came into force last October and you can read about these by clicking here. However several more provisions come into effect this month including those relating to positive action in recruitment and promotion and public sector equality duty.
The Equality Act refers continuously to “protected characteristics” so it is worth you knowing what these are. There are nine of them as follows:
- Age – Where this is referred to, it refers to a person belonging to a particular age (e.g. 32 year olds) or range of ages (e.g. 18 – 30 year olds).
- Disability – A person has a disability if they have 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.
- Gender reassignment – The process of changing sex from male or female or female to male.
- Marriage and civil partnership – Marriage is defined as a ‘union between a man and a woman’. Same-sex couples can 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 the protected characteristic of Race. It 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 but belief includes religious and philosophical beliefs including lack of belief (e.g. Atheism). Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.
- Sex – Whether you are 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.
You can see a more in-depth definition of these protective characteristics on the Office of Public Sector Information website.
Positive Action in Recruitment and Promotion
The provision relating to positive action in recruitment and promotion of staff is designed to make it legal, in some circumstances, for employers to positively discriminate in favour of candidates on the basis of them having “protected characteristics”. In general it will only be legal if the action can be justified by the employer showing that their workforce or some part of it – say managerial level – has an under representation of people with one of more protected characteristics. Quite how to do that isn’t clear but the government do issue a booklet to help with this whole issue (see below).
There is no requirement for employers to use positive action (the word discrimination is not used) but they could come under attack.
Public Sector Equality Duty
The Public Sector Equality Duty replaces the three previous duties on race, disability and gender, bringing them together into a single duty, and extends it to cover age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment (in full).
The new Equality Duty requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations in the course of developing policies and delivering services. The aim is for public bodies to consider the needs of all individuals in their day to day work, in developing policy, in delivering services, and in relation to their own employees. Again a guidance booklet is available below.
The Equality Act is a complex piece of legislation and employers or prospective employers need to read as much as they can and also to take appropriate advice from professional advisors.
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Equality Act Codes of Practice
- The Equality Act 2010 – What Do I Need To Know?
- The Equality Act 2010
- Positive Action in Recruitment & Promotion
- Public Sector Equality Duty