Equality Law in Great Britain

Equality Act 2010 - England, Scotland and Wales

The Equality Act, which came into force in October 2010, harmonised and replaced the following legislation:

  • Equal Pay Act 1970;
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1975;
  • Race Relations Act 1976;
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995;
  • Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003;
  • Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003;
  • Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006;
  • Part 2, Equality Act 2006 and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.

The Equality Act 2006, in so far as it relates to the constitution and operation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), remains in force.

Underpinning the 2010 Act are the key concepts of ‘protected characteristics’. The nine protected characteristics, on the grounds of which it is illegal to discriminate, are:

  • age;
  • disability;
  • gender reassignment;
  • marriage and civil partnership;
  • pregnancy and maternity;
  • race;
  • religion or belief;
  • sex;
  • sexual orientation.

Employees should therefore be protected by their employer from the following actions:

  • direct discrimination - acts of overt discrimination to a person’s detriment, such as denying them promotion on the basis of a protected characteristic;
  • indirect discrimination - a discriminatory provision, criterion or characteristic, such as a promotion requirement or working pattern that cannot be objectively justified;
  • discrimination arising from disability - for instance, a capability procedure that arises from a person’s disability-related absences;
  • harassment - acts of unwanted conduct that threaten or violate a person’s dignity, such as making unreasonable demands, bullying or ‘stalking’;
  • victimisation - particularly after making a complaint about discrimination or lodging a claim at an Employment Tribunal;
  • a failure to make reasonable adjustments in order to accommodate a person’s disability.

This duty of protection also includes the harassment of an employee by a third party; for instance, a contractor carrying out work on a school site who abuses a member of staff.

The NASUWT believes all schools and colleges should audit and review all of their existing policies and procedures to ensure that they comply with the Equality Act 2010 as well as with the relevant education codes of practice and guidance issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in England, Scotland and Wales.

From April 2011, the Act also introduced a single Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which applies to schools. Maintained schools, including in England pupil referral units (PRUs) and academies, are public authorities and are subject to the PSED. More information is available via the link on the right/below.

Schools have obligations under the Equality Act 2010 in three aspects of their activities: as employers; as bodies that carry out public functions; and as service providers. In summary, those subject to the General Equality Duty must, in the exercise of their functions, 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.

Existing policies, procedures or practices should be evaluated to ensure that they comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty and General Equality Duty.