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The Equality Act 2010 is more than just a piece of legislation; it’s a cornerstone for fostering equality, diversity, and inclusion within the workplace and society as a whole. For managers looking to create an inclusive environment that thrives on diversity, understanding the provisions of this Act is crucial.

The Genesis of the Equality Act 2010

Before 2010, the UK had various anti-discrimination laws addressing different types of discrimination. The Equality Act was introduced to consolidate these laws, providing a comprehensive framework that protects people from unfair treatment based on a range of ‘protected characteristics.’

Several key pieces of legislation were consolidated under the Equality Act 2010, including:

  • The Equal Pay Act 1970
  • The Sex Discrimination Act 1975
  • The Race Relations Act 1976
  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1995
  • The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003
  • The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003

By consolidating these laws and adding additional provisions, the Equality Act 2010 made it easier for individuals and organisations to understand and enforce the legal requirements.

What are the ‘protected characteristics’ under the Act?

The Equality Act 2010 safeguards against discrimination and unfair treatment, focusing on a set of specific personal attributes known as ‘protected characteristics.’ These characteristics are expressly outlined in the Act to ensure comprehensive protection for people in various aspects of life.

Under the Act, the nine ‘protected characteristics’ are:

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

These ‘protected characteristics’ encompass a broad range of personal attributes, and understanding them is vital for managers and organisations aiming to create inclusive environments that are also legally compliant.

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When are people protected from discrimination?

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from workplace and societal discrimination. Here is a list of some of the situations in which you will be protected from discrimination:

  • When at work
  • When applying for a job (in their current workplace or elsewhere)
  • When using public services (i.e. healthcare and education)
  • When using public transport
  • When contacting public bodies (such as their local council)
  • When buying or renting a property
  • When using businesses which provide goods or services (acting as a consumer)

What is discrimination?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits various types of conduct that are considered discriminatory. These include direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and discrimination by association or perception.

Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination occurs when an individual or a group is treated less favourably than others because of a protected characteristic.

It also occurs when an individual or a group is treated less favourably than others because they are believed to have a protected characteristic (discrimination by perception).

Direct discrimination can also extend to instances where someone faces discrimination due to their association with an individual or group who has a protected characteristic (discrimination by association).

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination occurs when a rule or policy applies to everyone but disadvantages people with a particular protected characteristic.

An employer may be able to justify indirect discrimination if the employer can show that they acted reasonably and the discrimination is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.


Harassment is the ‘unwanted conduct related to a relevant ‘protected characteristic’,’ and that conduct ‘has the purpose or effect of violating [an individual’s] dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’ for that individual.

It is important to note that harassment can occur even if there is no intent for the conduct to be offensive.


Victimisation occurs when people are treated less favourably than others because they have made, or tried to make, a complaint or raise a grievance under the Equality Act 2010.

It also occurs when people are treated less favourably than others because they support someone’s complaint, act as a witness to a complaint or gather information that might lead to a complaint of discrimination under the Act.

However, victimisation will only apply where the complaint is made or the support is provided in good faith. The Act specifies that actions such as giving false evidence or information and making false allegations will not be protected ‘if the evidence or information is given, or the allegation is made, in bad faith.’

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Managers’ Responsibility

As a manager, you have a legal obligation to prevent discrimination. Therefore, it’s crucial that you not only understand the legal requirements but that you also take steps to implement them.

The consequences of failing to comply with the Equality Act can be severe, including legal actions and reputational damage. But remember, abiding by the Act is not just about avoiding penalties; it’s about creating a culture of inclusion that benefits everyone.

Moving Beyond Compliance: The Benefits of an Inclusive Culture

Many companies that have fully embraced the principles of the Equality Act 2010 have found that the benefits go far beyond legal compliance. A diverse and inclusive work environment promotes creativity and innovation and can even boost your bottom line.

Furthermore, research comparing diversity and performance has supported these findings. For example, the 2020 McKinsey report ‘Diversity Wins: How inclusion matters’ found that companies “in the top quartile for gender and ethnic diversity are 12 per cent more likely to outperform all other companies in the data set.

In summary, given the proven benefits of diversity and inclusion, managers and organisations have every reason to not just comply with the Equality Act but to embrace its underlying principles fully. Understanding and implementing the provisions of the Act provides a blueprint for fostering an environment where all employees can thrive.

So, take the first step today and contact us to discuss our range of equality, inclusion and diversity training courses.

Author: Gemma Rolstone | Published 26th September 2023.