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Understanding the Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act, which will come into force in October 2010, aims to harmonise and clarify existing equality legislation in the UK.

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The Equality Act 2010 was introduced in October 2010, bringing together pre-existing legislation on discrimination and equality and introducing some new provisions to address outstanding discrimination issues and promote equality.

The Act repealed and replaced all existing equality legislation, including: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 and Belief) Regulations 2003
  • The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003
  • The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006
  • The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007

Key concepts

The Act defines the characteristics of nine protected groups including age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, gender and sexual orientation.

It defines discrimination by reference to direct and indirect discrimination, discrimination arising from disability, failure to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments (applicable in relation to disability only), harassment and victimisation.

Key changes from 2010

  • Using public purchasing power to promote and improve equality by including equality provisions in tender documents or requiring suppliers to show that they operate an inclusive workplace.
  • Extending positive action so that employers can take into account, when selecting between two equally qualified candidates for recruitment or promotion, under-representation of disadvantaged groups.
  • Extending the protection from harassment by third parties that currently applies to sexual harassment to the other protected groups. Introducing a requirement for private sector employers with more than 250 staff to report on the pay gap between male and female employees.
  • The Government has made a commitment not to use these before 2013 and only then if insufficient progress has been made on voluntary reporting in the meantime.
  • Banning secrecy clauses which prevent people from discussing their pay with colleagues. Banning unjustifiable age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services.
  • Protecting against discrimination by association, for example making it unlawful to discriminate against someone because they care for an elderly relative.
  • Strengthening and extending the powers of Employment Tribunals by allowing them to make wide recommendations that would benefit the whole workforce and not just limited to the person who brought the claim.
  • Strengthening protection from discrimination for disabled people.
  • Clarifying vicarious liability – that is the liability of employers and principals in relation to the conduct of their employees or agents.
  • Extending use of women-only short lists to 2030. There are no proposals on ethnic minority short lists.

What does it mean for businesses?

Depending on your business, the impact of the Act will differ. If you are an employer, you need to be sure that the HR processes you use are fully non-discriminatory; not just for race, gender and disability. And you should be aware that the Act makes it possible to bring discrimination claims for experiencing two types of direct discrimination at one time.

If you supply goods or services, including websites, you need to be sure you provide equal access and that no one is unreasonably excluded.

There are two areas to note:

Supply chain

Public spending will soon account for almost half of the UK economy. To encourage equality, most public bodies will be required to include equality provisions in their purchasing process. If you do business with local authorities, government departments, NHS and other publically funded bodies, or even supply those businesses that do, you will have to prove that you do not discriminate and that you have processes in place to prevent it.

Employment

Recruiting, selecting and managing your employees are all areas where discrimination can arise.

The Equality Act extends protection in the areas of:

  • Gender re-assignment
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Marriage and civil partnerships
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender.

You need to be sure that the processes you use are inclusive. Remember, if you use a recruitment agency, you are still liable for the actions they take on your behalf. 

Because this is such a sensitive area of employment law, we strongly encourage all businesses to seek advice before taking any action. Members of the Forum can call the helpline on 0845 130 1722.