Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Equality Act 2010

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 four key elements of the Equality Act:

You can read the full text of the Equality Act on the webpages.


Protected Characteristics

The Equality Act covers nine 'protected characteristics', namely:


Prohibited Conduct

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.

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:

  • 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.

Specific Duties

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 here.


Positive Action

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.