The Equality Act 2010 provides protection from discrimination in the workplace and wider society.
A number of “protected characteristics” (personal characteristics with special protection from discrimination) are defined in the legislation. It is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of one of these 9 “protected characteristics” which are:
- Age – Whether someone if younger or older. This applies to all aspects of employment, including recruitment, promotion, training, and retirement.
- Gender reassignment – this applies to those undergoing and those who have undergone the process of changing their gender. Employers should respect the individual’s gender identity and provide support and appropriate facilities.
- Being married or in a civil partnership – this applies to anyone who is in a legally recognised union whether this is a different sex or same sex relationship. However, it does not cover those who are divorced, widowed, cohabiting, or engaged to be married.
- Being pregnant or on maternity leave – Pregnant women and those on maternity leave are protected. In a redundancy situation, those on maternity leave (and soon also those recently returned from maternity leave) must be given preference over other employees when considering redeployment to alternative roles.
- Disability – What constitutes a “disability” for these purposes is defined in the Act. Some conditions such as cancer will always be a “disability”, others, such as alcoholism, are expressly excluded (although alcohol addiction can be a symptom of a “disability”). Employers must not treat someone less favourably because they have a “disability” or for a reason related to their “disability”. Employers must also make reasonable adjustments to support employees and job applicants with disabilities in order to provide a fair and inclusive environment.
- Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin –Employers should promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace and must provide equal treatment for all.
- Religion or belief – Less favourable treatment based on religious belief, or a lack thereof, is unlawful. Some non-religious, philosophical beliefs, are also covered by the legislation.
- Sex – Men and women should be treated equally in the workplace. This includes equal pay for equal work and opportunities for promotion and career development.
- Sexual orientation – Whether someone is heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transexual they must not face unfair treatment due to their sexual orientation.
Everyone in the workplace will be protected from discrimination based on these protected characteristics, regardless of their employment status. Furthermore, there is no requirement for an individual to have worked for the employer for any length of time – they are protected from day 1 and, indeed, from the recruitment stage if an applicant believes that they were not offered a job because of discrimination, or if the applicant believes that they were denied the opportunity to be considered for a role due to a failure on the part of the employer to make reasonable adjustments.
Not only is there no qualifying period for bringing a claim but there is also no cap on the maximum award which can be made for a successful discrimination claim. A failure to understand, and ensure compliance with, their legal obligations in this area can therefore be extremely expensive for employers!
For practical advice and support on steps which can be taken by employers to promote inclusivity in the workplace, and to help protect against discrimination claims, contact us.
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