Happy 10th Birthday Equality Act! Taking a stand against discrimination

9th Apr 2020
Lisa Boyle

Happy 10th Birthday Equality Act! Taking a stand against discrimination

Up until 2009 employment law practitioners had become accustomed to appearing in Employment Tribunals, armed with dusty discrimination legislation from the 1970s. In 2010 the Equality Act was an opportunity to wipe the table clean and update the previous discrimination legislation.

The Equality Act is an amalgamation of the main equality legislation, including the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

However, the Equality Act was not simply a relabelling of “old” legislation. While the Equality Act is largely focused on workplace issues, there is a protection against discrimination from private and public services.

The objective of the Equality Act is the concept that no one should be discriminated against because of a protected characteristic. The protected characterises are age, race, disability, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, sex, religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender reassignment. In theory, everyone falls under the category of one of the protected characteristics so we should all be protected against discrimination.

The Equality Act protects employees from direct discrimination, which can appear often to be deliberate and targeted discrimination. For example, in a workplace an employer openly saying that they won’t promote women of child bearing age in case they go off on maternity leave.

Indirect discrimination happens when a workplace applies a rule to the whole workforce, but that rule results in a disadvantage to one of the protected groups. For example, requiring all staff to work on a Sunday might cause a disadvantage to religious groups who want to attend a religious service.



The Equality Act also protects against harassment. Harassment is any unwanted conduct, related to a protected characteristic, which has the effect of violating a person’s dignity, or creates a hostile, offensive, degrading or humiliating environment. There is also specific protection against sexual harassment.

A major, and vital, change introduced by the Equality Act has been the concept of ‘unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of disability’. In 2008 the House of Lords held that a disabled person whose behaviour was influenced by the fact that they had schizophrenia should be treated in the same way as a person who did not have a disability. This essentially meant that disabled claimants were at risk of being denied access to justice in discrimination cases.

Introducing the concept of unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of disability ensured that the rights of disabled Claimants are protected. In 2019 the average award made by Employment Tribunals in disability discrimination cases was £28,371; this compensation is something that disabled Claimants might have missed out on if it was not for the current wording of the Equality Act.

One of the new conceptions introduced by the Equality Act was the provision of dual discrimination which would allow a Claimant to bring a claim on the basis of a combination of two of the protected characteristics. This provision wording remains in the Equality Act, but has never been brought into force.

Socio economic inequalities under the public sector duty were another provision of the Equality Act that should have come into force in 2010 and was only introduced by the Scottish Government in 2018. Under the public sector duty public bodies must adopt robust measures to address the inequalities that result from differences in education, employment, living conditions or social background.

In 2019 the average awards made by Employment Tribunals in discrimination cases were as follows:

Sec discrimination £8,774

Race discrimination £12,467

Disability discrimination £28,371

Age discrimination £26,148

If you have been discriminated against at work Watermans can help. Time limits are short and you have three months, minus a day, from the last act of discrimination. Call now for free advice by emailing [email protected]