The Equality Act 2010

From 1 October 2010, the Equality Act 2010 replaces various targeted pieces of anti-discrimination legislation such as the DDA, Sex Discrimination Act and Employment Equality (Age).

What is covered by the law?

Characteristics protected by the new legislation are broadly the same as those covered previously by the separate Acts:

• age
• disability
• gender reassignment, which covers transsexual people
• marriage and civil partnership
• pregnancy and maternity
• race, which includes ethnic or national origins, colour and nationality
• religion or belief
• sex
• sexual orientation

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The Equality Act extends protection from Association Discrimination (discriminating against someone because they associate with another person of a particular race, religion/belief or sexual orientation). This protection now also applies to Association Discrimination on grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment and sex. One effect of this is that someone who cares for an elderly or disabled individual can now make a claim if, for example, they are treated unfairly at work because of their caring duties.

Disabled people are now protected from indirect discrimination, making it unlawful to have a policy which applies to everyone but particularly disadvantages disabled people. It may, however, be possible to justify indirect discrimination if you can show that it is a fair and reasonable way of achieving a legitimate aim.

The Act also introduces protection from "discrimination arising from disability", which occurs when a disabled person is treated unfavourably because of something connected to their disability, such as a guide dog. 

Third-party harassment protection has been extended to age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation. It already applied to harassment on the grounds of sex. In practice, this means that an employer may be held responsible if a third party, such as a customer, harasses a member of their staff on grounds related to one of the protected characteristics.

The rules apply to all organisations, both private and public sector, as well as trade unions and professional organisations, employer organisations, vocational training providers, trustees and managers of occupational pension schemes.

As before, businesses and service providers of all types have a duty to make "reasonable adjustments" to ensure that people with disabilities can access their services to the same standard as non-disabled customers  

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What to do about discrimination as a service user

If you believe you have been discriminated against, harassed or treated unfairly by a person or organisation providing any kind of service, facilities, goods or public functions, you have three different options open to you:

• make a complaint to the person or organisation directly yourself

• use an alternative dispute resolution service, so that someone else helps you sort it out

• make a court claim (within six months of the discrimination occurring)

You aren't limited to just one of these options, you could try the least formal step of complaining yourself first, then move on to the other options if you don't get a satisfactory outcome.

Court action can be stressful and time-consuming, so it is worth thinking carefully and getting advice before taking this route.

You can get advice from the Equality And Human Rights Commission. These are their helpline numbers:
England 0845 604 6610
Scotland 0845 604 5510
Wales 0845 604 8810

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can also provide free and impartial advice. The local CAB office will be in the phone book, or you can find your local CAB on-line (it will open in a new window)

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What to do about discrimination at work

Anybody who feels that they have been disadvantaged at work, or has been harrassed or discriminated against, can bring a claim before an Employment Tribunal.

Before taking this formal step, however, it is best to try and resolve the situation informally, by talking to your boss. You do not need to do this alone - you have the right to bring an employee representative to any meeting.

You can get free, confidential advice from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). You can call the Acas helpline on 08457 474747 from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm Monday to Friday or visit their webesite (it will open in a new window)

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can also provide free and impartial advice. The local CAB office will be in the phone book, or you can find your local CAB on-line (it will open in a new window)

Trade Union members can get both advice and support from their union.

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