The Equality Act

The Equality Act sets out the different ways in which it is unlawful to treat someone, such as direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, victimisation and failing to make a reasonable adjustment for a disabled person.

The Act prohibits unfair treatment in the workplace; when providing goods, facilities and services; when exercising public functions; in the disposal and management of premises; in education and by associations (such as private clubs).

In summary, those subject to the Equality Act 2010 must have due regard  to the need to:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act
  • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not
  • Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not

The previous Act stated: Recognise that discrimination exists, promote equality of opportunity and good relations between groups and challenge inequality and exclusion

Some examples [Ref.]

A service provider should not treat a pregnant woman or new mother worse than they would treat a man or a non-pregnant woman.  If a mother is breast-feeding her baby in public, a service provider should not tell her to stop or to leave their premises or let it affect the standard of service they give her.

      A local healthcare organisation is taking a group of carers away for a well-earned break but decides it will not permit same sex couples to share a room, even though it is happy for heterosexual couples to do so.  This is direct discrimination because of sexual orientation.

          The above examples are fairly straightforward. However, it can feel quite complicated sometimes and there is the danger that people will accuse you of positively favouring other people. It’s important to be clear that working on the basis of not discriminating against someone because of their protected characteristic means that you might need to treat them differently. For example:

A disabled person in a queue for a particular service is allowed to sit in a chair until it is their turn to be served because they experience pain when standing for a long time.  A non-disabled person in the queue complains this is preferential treatment.  The service provider explains that the preferential treatment is to enable the disabled person to use the service. You are allowed to treat a disabled person more favourably than a non disabled one in this instance.

Can you think of situations where you might need to offer a different service to people because of their  protected characteristics?

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