The Act replaces previous equality legislation (such as the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995), bringing together over 116 separate pieces of legislation into one Act to ensure consistency and a single framework for tackling disadvantage and discrimination.
Below you can find information about four key elements of the Equality Act:
The Equality Act covers nine 'protected characteristics', namely:
The Act aims to protect people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation on the basis of a person's age and/or because they are part of an age group - this can be specific (e.g. people in their mid-30s) or broader (e.g. people under 50). In addition, some terms can indicate age groups without reference to specific ages e.g. young people, elderly, pensioner, etc.
Learn more about age and equality law from the following sources:
The Act aims to protect people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation on the basis of a person's disability.
Under the Equality Act, a person has a disability if they have a "physical or mental impairment" which "has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [their] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities".
The Act includes additional explanation of these terms:
'Substantial' means more than minor or trivial.
'Long-term' means that the effect of the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least twelve months.
'Normal day-to-day activities' include everyday things like eating, washing, walking, and going shopping.
Duty to make adjustments
The Equality Act also places on public bodies, including the University, a duty to take such steps as are reasonable to provide adjustments or aids if a disabled person is substantially disadvantaged by any of the following:
A provision, criterion, or practice.
A physical feature of the premises.
The absence of an auxiliary aid or service.
The aim of this duty is to ensure that disabled people can access a service or workplace at as close to the same standard as non-disabled people would receive as it is possible to achieve.
The duty is 'anticipatory' meaning that public bodies, including the University, must be ready to comply with this duty at any time i.e. the University is not expected to anticipate the needs of every prospective staff member, but we are required to consider and take reasonable and proportionate steps to overcome barriers that may impede people with different kinds of disabilities.
The Act aims to protect people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation on the basis of a person's gender reassignment.
In the Equality Act, the protected characteristic of gender reassignment refers to anyone proposing to undergo, undergoing, or who has undergone a process (or part of a process) to reassign their gender by changing physiological or other attributes of gender.
Under the Act, gender reassignment is a personal process, rather than a medical process. An individual would be protected by the Act
While they are proposing to undergo a process of gender reassignment, whether or not they ultimately go through with that process.
An individual is covered whilst they are in the process of reassigning their gender, even if they begin the process and later decide to stop.
If they undergoing medical gender confirmation treatments and if they do not - the Act does not require someone to undergo medical treatment in order to be protected.
A 2020 legal ruling (Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover Ltd ) confirmed that non-binary and gender fluid people are protected from discrimination under the 'gender reassignment' characteristic.
You can find more information about gender reassignment and the law from the following sources:
The Act aims to protect people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation on the basis of pregnancy and maternity.
In the Equality Act, the protected characteristic of pregnancy and maternity applies to people who are pregnant or expecting a baby and during the period after the birth.
In the Act ‘maternity’ is linked to maternity leave in the employment context, and in the non-work context protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, including treating someone unfavourably because they are breastfeeding.
You can find more information about pregnancy and maternity and the law from the following sources:
The Act aims to protect people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation on the basis of religion or belief.
Religion and belief discrimination applies to those with a religion or belief or on the basis of a lack of a religion or belief.
This includes philosophical beliefs, if they are genuinely held, more than an opinion, and apply to an important aspect of human life or behaviour. To be covered by the Equality Act, beliefs must not affect other people’s fundamental rights.
You can find more information about religion or belief and the law from the following sources:
The Act aims to protect people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation on the basis of sex.
In the Equality Act, the protected characteristic of sex refers to men and women. A 2020 legal ruling (Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover Ltd ) confirmed that non-binary and gender fluid people are protected from discrimination under the 'gender reassignment' characteristic.
Under the Equality Act, sex discrimination applies at all ages and therefore covers girls and boys, as well as men and women.
You can find more information about sex/gender and the law from the following sources:
This is when someone is treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic.
This can include direct discrimination:
By association. This is when someone is treated less favourably because of a connection to an individual who has a protected characteristic (for example, a family member, friend, or colleague).
By perception. This is when someone is treated less favourably because they are thought to have a protected characteristic, whether or not this perception is correct.
This is when a practice, policy, or rule is applied to everyone but has a worse effect on some.
This is when someone engages in unwanted conduct relevant to a protected characteristic and that conduct has the purpose or effect of violating the recipient's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
This is when someone is treated less favourably due to an allegation of discrimination which they made, supported, or gave evidence to.
Report + Support - our online platform for reporting bullying and harassment, discrimination, sexual misconduct and/or hate crime.
Public Sector Equality Duty
The Equality Act created the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which came into effect in April 2011.
The PSED replaced existing duties (the race, disability, and gender equality duties) which aimed to place a responsibility on organisations to actively promote equality, not simply avoid discrimination. The PSED brings the duties together into one general duty covering all protected characteristics, aiming to bring the consideration of equality into the everyday business of public bodies.
Organisations subject to the PSED, including the University, must have due regard to the need to:
Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and any other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act.
Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and people who do not share it. This involves:
Removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by people due to their protected characteristics.
Taking steps to meet the needs of people from protected groups where these are different from the needs of other people.
Encouraging people from protected groups to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low.
Foster good relations between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and people who do not share it. The involves:
The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) is supported by the Specific Duties, which came into force in September 2011.
The aim of the Specific Duties is to make public bodies transparent about their decision-making processes and give the public the information they need to hold public bodies to account for their performance on equality.
The Specific Duties require public bodies, including the University, to:
Publish information to show their compliance with the Equality Duty, at least annually. This includes:
Information relating to employees who share protected characteristics.
Information relating to people who are affected by their policies and practices who share protected characteristics (for example, service users).
Set and publish one or more equality objectives, at least every four years. These should be specific and measurable objectives which will help them further the three aims of the PSED.
The Equality Act recognises that some groups of people who share a particular characteristic may suffer disadvantage connected to that characteristic, have different needs compared to others without that characteristic, and/or are underrepresented in certain activities.
The positive action provisions in the Equality Act allow employers to take action that may involve treating one group with a protected characteristic more favourably than others, where this is a proportionate way to enable or encourage members of that group to:
Overcome or minimise a disadvantage.
Have their different needs met.
Participate in a particular activity.
There are two types of positive action outlined in the Equality Act:
General: If an employer reasonably thinks that one or more of the above issues applies (i.e., disadvantage connected to a characteristic, different needs, or disproportionately low participation in an activity) they can take proportionate actions which are designed to address this. This could include, for example, providing a leadership scheme to help an underrepresented group achieve more senior positions in an organisation or providing tailored training for a group because they have specific requirements.
Recruitment and promotion: If an employer is choosing between two candidates of equal merit, it is not unlawful to recruit or promote a candidate with a protected characteristic over the other if the employer reasonably thinks that person has a protected characteristic which is underrepresented in the workforce and/or people with that characteristic experience a disadvantage connected to that characteristic.
The positive action provisions are exceptions to the usual requirements of discrimination law that prevent people with a protected characteristic being treated differently. Without the positive action exceptions, taking action that deliberately and overtly advantages those with a particular protected characteristic over those without it (generally referred to as 'positive discrimination') would normally be unlawful under the Act. For example, creating schemes to benefit those with a particular protected characteristic without any evidence that this group is at a disadvantage, or setting quotas (as opposed to targets) to recruit or promote a particular number or proportion of people with protected characteristics irrespective of merit.
You can see some examples of positive action taking place at Warwick below:
INspire - a leadership programme for disabled, women, LGBTQUIA+, and ethnic minority staff at grade 9, both in Academic and Professional Services, who have an ambition to be a top/executive senior leader.
The Warwick PATHWAY Programme - a programme of initiatives to address issues for Black Academics along the entire career pathway and create a community of aspiring Black researchers.
EmpowerHer - a personal development programme for women from minority ethnic backgrounds and their leaders.
Aurora - a leadership development programme for women in both Academic and Professional Services roles.
You can find more information about the Equality Act using the links below: