The Equality Act became law in October 2010.
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 three key elements of the Equality Act. You can read the full text of the Equality Act on the Government's Legislation webpages.
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.
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.
If you, or someone you line manage, require workplace adjustments My Adjustment PassportLink opens in a new window will guide you through the implementation process.
You can find more information about disability and the law from the following sources:
- Gov.UK - Definition of Disability Under the Equality Act 2010.
- Gov.UK - Disability Rights.
- Gov.UK - When a Mental Health Condition Becomes a Disability.
- Advance HE - Equality Legislation.
- EHRC - Disability Discrimination.
- Citizens Advice - What Counts as Disability.
- Business Disability Forum advice and guidance on what the law says about disability.
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 confirmed that non-binary and gender fluid people are protected from discrimination under the 'gender reassignment' characteristic
Since the creation of the Equality Act terminology on ED&I issues has changed and progressed. At Warwick we use the term 'trans', as opposed to 'gender reassignment', when talking about equality issues relating to gender identity.
Gender reassignment is the legal term, and as such when discussing the Equality Act we refer to this term. However, beyond this, we use the more inclusive term 'trans' in our work on gender identity equality.
Definitions of key terms are included below:
A trans person is someone who self-defines as a gender other than that which they were assigned at birth. People have a gender assigned at birth according to attributes such as chromosomes, hormones and external and internal anatomy. However, this assignment sometimes conflicts with people’s gender identity - their internal sense of their own gender and what feels right for them. This might be male, female, non-binary (outside of male or female), genderless, or some other gender identity.
A person who is trans may decide to transition; that is to start living and expressing themselves in the gender with which they identify.
They may change their name, alter their appearance and dress, and use new pronouns (e.g. she/her, he/him, they/them).
Transition is a long process which may include hormone treatment and/or surgery.
In the UK trans people can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) two years or more after transitioning. This allows the person to have a birth certificate in their new name and sex. You can find more information about applying for a GRC on the Gov.UK websiteLink opens in a new window.
Non-Binary Gender Identities
Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of their own gender and what feels right for them. This might be male, female, non-binary, genderless, or some other gender identity. All gender identities are equally valid.
A non-binary person is someone who defines their gender outside of the binary of ‘male’ and ‘female’ genders. There are many identities under the umbrella of ‘non-binary’, including agender/genderless (no gender), bigender (some combination of the binary genders of ‘male’ and ‘female’), genderfluid, and so on.
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, and victimisation on the basis of a person being married or in a civil partnership.
Equal Marriage and Civil Partnerships
Following the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, in England and Wales marriage can either be between a man and a woman or between partners of the same sex. Equal marriage was also legislated for in Scotland in 2014 (with the passage of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill), in the Republic of Ireland in 2015 (following a referendum in which 62% of the population voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage), and in Northern Ireland in 2020.
Following a Supreme Court ruling in June 2018, civil partnerships in England and Wales can be either between a man and a woman or partners of the same sex. The Civil Partnership, Marriages, Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 brought in processes to allow people to convert a marriage to a civil partnership.
Learn more about marriage and civil partnership 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 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:
- Gov.UK - Pregnant Employees' Rights.
- Gov.UK - Employee Rights When on Maternity, Paternity, Adoption, or Parental Leave.
- Advance HE - Equality Legislation.
- EHRC - Pregnancy and Maternity in the Workplace.
- Acas - Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination.
- Citizens Advice - Rights While You're Pregnant at Work.
The Act aims to protect people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation on the basis of race.
In the Equality Act, ‘race’ includes:
- Ethnic or national origins.
In the Act's definition, a racial group can be made up of two or more different racial groups (e.g. Black Britons).
The traditional definition of race and ethnicity is related to biological and sociological factors respectively:
- Race refers to the concept of dividing people into populations or groups on the basis of various sets of physical characteristics (which usually result from genetic ancestry) e.g. skin colour.
- Ethnicity refers to a population group whose members identify with each other on the basis of common nationality, language, religion, or shared cultural traditions.
We also uses the term 'BAME' (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) in our work on race equality.
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.
Requests for time off for religious holidays and prayer
Requests for absence from work or study for a religious holiday and/or prayer should be considered thoroughly and treated sympathetically.
For line managers responding to staff requests, you can treat these requests in the same way you would a request for annual leave or flexible working, and approve it wherever possible. Note that the Equality Act 2010 protects job applicants as well as existing employees, therefore job applicants, individuals who have accepted but not yet started a job, employees on a permanent or temporary contract, and casual/freelance workers can make requests based on religion or belief.
Students should not be registered as absent without good cause if their absence is due to religious commitments and this has been discussed and agreed.
If it is not possible to approve a request for legitimate reasons (e.g., a pressing business need) you should discuss the situation with the individual to see if there are some adjustments that can be made e.g., letting staff work from home, a temporary change to working hours, adjusting break times or allowing a longer break for prayers.
You may find the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s decision-making tool on religion and belief based requests useful as it gives you a step-by-step approach to work through when considering a request.
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. There is currently no recognition of non-binary identities in the Equality Act.
Under the Equality Act, sex discrimination applies at all ages and therefore covers girls and boys, as well as men and women.
Since the creation of the Equality Act terminology on ED&I issues has changed and progressed. At Warwick we recognise gender as a spectrum and therefore you'll more commonly see us using 'gender', as opposed to 'sex', when talking about equality issues relating to sex/gender:
Sex is a label assigned at birth based on attributes such as chromosomes, hormones, and external and internal anatomy. Sex is the term used in the Equality Act 2010, specifically to refer to men and women.
Gender is non-biological and can refer to social constructions of acceptable or desirable attitudes and behaviours based on sex (also known as gender roles e.g. women as homemakers and men as breadwinners), or a person’s internal sense of their own identity and what feels right for them, this might be male, female, non-binary, genderless, or some other gender identity.
The Act aims to protect people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation on the basis of sexual orientation.
In the Equality Act, sexual orientation refers to person's attraction towards:
- People of the same sex.
- People of the opposite sex.
- People of either sex.
The definition provided above is that of the Equality Act, but since the creation of the Equality Act terminology on ED&I issues has changed and progressed. Warwick acknowledges that there are many ways that people identify. This is why we use the acronym 'LGBTQUIA+', meaning lesbian, gay, bi+, trans, queer, undefined (for those who are questioning or who choose not to define their sexual orientation, in the latter case some individuals may also use the word queer), intersex, asexual/aromantic, and identities which are subject to similar forms of prejudice and discrimination.
You can find more information about sexual orientation and the law from the following sources:
The Equality Act prohibits:
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.
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:
- Tackling prejudice.
- Promoting understanding.
The Equality Act explains that complying with the PSED may involve treating some people or groups more favourably than others. For example, the PSED notes that the needs of disabled people may differ from those of non-disabled people, and public bodies are required to provide reasonable adjustments to accommodate those needs. You can find more information about workplace adjustments at Warwick on the My Adjustment Passport webpage.
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 Specific Duties also require public bodies to ensure that the information and objectives they publish are easily accessible to the public, free of charge. As such, you can find information about employees who share protected characteristics on the Data webpage, and read about our Social Inclusion Strategy and KPIs hereLink opens in a new window.
You can find more information about the Equality Act using the links below: