The Equality Act came into force in October 2010 and provides a modern, single legal framework with clear, streamlined law more effective at tackling disadvantage and discrimination.
The act brings together over 116 separate pieces of legislation, providing a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals, and advance equality of opportunity for all.
This simplifies, strengthens and harmonises existing legislation, giving Britain a discrimination law which protects individuals from unfair treatment and promotes a fair and more equal society.
There is now also a Single Public Sector Equality Duty which covers all nine protected characteristics which are:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion and belief
- Sexual orientation
Here are some examples of how the law has changed:
- Strengthening disabled people’s protection from discrimination
- Public procurement duty - using public sector money to prevent inequality
- Positive action, with greater scope to address deficits in the workforce
- Strengthening the powers of employment tribunals
- Strengthening the protection for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers
- Banning discrimination in private members’ clubs
- Requiring publication of the details of gender pay and employment equality, if necessary
The fundamental difference is that new groups are now provided with the same levels of protection from discrimination across all the protected characteristics and all sectors.
Summary of key changes
Protecting people from discrimination in the recruitment process
The act makes it unlawful for employers to ask job applicants questions about disability or health before making a job offer, except in specified circumstances.
Protecting people from being discriminated against because they are perceived to have, or are associated with someone who has, a protected characteristic
For example, protecting carers from discrimination. The Equality Act will protect people who are, for instance, caring for a disabled child or relative. They will be protected by virtue of their association to that person.
Protecting pregnant women and mothers from discrimination
The Equality Act makes clear that mothers can breastfeed their children in places like cafes and shops and not be asked to leave. The act also prohibits schools from discriminating against pupils who are pregnant or are new mothers.
Extending the equality duty to require the public sector to take into account the needs of all protected groups (except marital and civil partnership status)
The new Equality Duty will require public authorities to consider the needs of all the protected groups in, for example, employment, and when designing and delivering services. Timescales for this duty are to be confirmed with the government.
Changing the definition of gender reassignment by removing the requirement for medical supervision
Harmonising the thresholds for the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.
Extending protection in private clubs to sex, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has developed an ‘Equality Starter Kit’. They have put all the essential resources and training modules in one place to help employers and service providers get started with the Equality Act 2010.
For further information please follow the links on this page.