The Equality Act 2010 comes into force today.  This replaces much previous legislation such as the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, consolidating the regulations into one place.

The Act covers the same groups as protected under the previous legislation, but these are now called “protected characteristics”.  They are:

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

There are seven types of Discrimination covered by the Act,

  • Direct discrimination – where someone is treated less favourably because they have a protected characteristic.  This covers all protected characteristics.
  • Discrimination by Association – where someone is treated less favourably because they associate with someone who has a protected characteristic
  • Discrimination by Perception – where someone is treated less favourably because they are perceived to have a protected characteristic, whether they actually do or not
  • Indirect Discrimination – where a rule, policy or practice of an employer disadvantages people sharing a protected characteristic
  • Harassment – “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual” – employees can complain of this even if the harassment is not aimed at them or they don’t hold the protected characteristic themselves.  Harassment by Association and by Perception is also covered.
  • Harassment by a 3rd party – Employers can be held  liable for harassment by 3rd parties if it has happened twice before, they are aware of it and they haven’t done anything about it
  • Victimisation – where someone is treated badly as a result of making a complaint or raising a grievance under any of the other categories

Some of the rules in the previous legislation have been carried through without substantial change, some have been updated and others have been extended to cover more of the protected characteristics than before.

Needless to say this is a complicated area, and claims for discrimination in the Employment Tribunal may be very large.  If you need help understanding the new rules, training your staff and updating your contracts and policies, call us now on 01245 893400 and ask to speak to one of our expert employment solicitors.