Wondering what the government is doing to protect the rights of people against discrimination and unfair treatment both, in the workplace and in general society? The Equality Act was introduced for that purpose. It contains provisions against discrimination that one must be aware of such that they can make use of their rights in the workplace.

What is The Equality Act 2010?

The Equality Act 2010 Act provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. It replaced previous anti-discrimination laws and legislations (116 pieces of legislation such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Race Relations Act 1976, and Disability Discrimination Act 1995) with a single Act by making the law easier to understand and in some cases, strengthening protection offered by the law. A list of all legislation that was repealed or revoked on 1 October 2010 is available in Schedule 27 to the act.

The nine main pieces of legislation that have merged to form the Act are the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, the Equality Act 2006, Part 2 and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.

Additionally, there exist UK Statutory Instruments, Welsh Statutory Instruments, and Scottish Statutory Instruments under the act which are linked here.

The Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011 came into force on 10 September 2011. This Act requires public bodies to additionally publish relevant, proportionate information showing compliance with the Equality Duty, and to set equality objectives.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the statutory body established to help eliminate discrimination and reduce inequality. The Commission has published various non-statutory guidance to meet the Equality Duty.

The Equality Act applies to a range of different types of places and organizations including those places that provide goods or services and employment. Essentially, the law applies to consumer services, healthcare services, public services, and other employers.

There are certain occupations that are exempt from the Act. These include priests, monks, rabbis and other ministers of religion, actors and models in film, special employment training programs aimed at certain groups of people such as ethnic minorities, or people with physical or learning disabilities, where there are cultural sensitivities or where safety or operational efficiency or even national security could be jeopardized.

Public Sector Equality Duty

The Equality Duty applies across Great Britain to those public bodies listed in Schedule 19 (which include local councils, hospitals, and publicly-funded service providers), as well as any other organization when it is carrying out a public function. Public bodies are required to consider all individuals including those with protected characteristics (defined below) when they shape policy and deliver services. Their duty as set out in section 149 requires those public authorities which are subject to it to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimization, and any other conduct prohibited under the Act, advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not and foster good relations between those who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.

The Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/2260), additionally requires public authorities to publish information to demonstrate their compliance with the public sector equality duty as well as identify one or more objectives that they believe they must work to achieve.



The Act protects people from discrimination, harassment, and victimization, and as users of private and public services based on protected characteristics. These are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. The specific definition and requirements to prove each of these characteristics are detailed in the Act.

Under the Act, one is protected from discrimination in the workplace, while they avail public services like healthcare or education, when they use businesses and other organizations that provide services and goods, when they use transport, join a club or association or have contact with public bodies like the local council or government departments.

Four main types of discrimination

Direct discrimination is treating one person worse than another because of a protected characteristic.  Age discrimination falls within this category. In the case of disability, employers and service providers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their workplaces to overcome barriers experienced by disabled people.

Indirect discrimination may occur when an organization creates a rule or a policy that has a worse impact on someone with a protected characteristic than someone without one.

Harassment is when people treat you in a way that violates dignity or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment.

Victimization is when one is treated unfairly if they are taking action under the Equality Act such as making a complaint of discrimination, or if one is supporting someone else who is doing so.

The Act also protects those who have people in their life, like family members or friends, who have certain protected characteristics. If one finds that they are being treated unfairly because of that, they too may be protected under the act through discrimination by association. 

Age discrimination

The Act includes provisions that ban age discrimination against adults in services and public functions. The ban came into effect on 1 October 2012 making it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age unless an exception to the ban protected this practice or discrimination was made for good reason and be objectively justified as differential treatment.

The ban aims to law prohibits only harmful treatment that results in genuinely unfair discrimination based on one’s age. It does not outlaw the many instances where different treatments can be justified or are beneficial.

Age discrimination may be legal under certain circumstances when it can be ‘objectively justified. Exceptions to the ban include age-based concessions, age-related holidays, age verification, clubs and associations concessions, financial services, immigration, residential park homes, and sport, alongside general exceptions to the Act.

Health and social care is not an exception to the ban. Therefore, any age-based practices by any health and social care organization need to be objectively justified, if challenged.

The Process if You Experienced Discrimination/ Making a Complain

Prior to October 2010, if one wanted to complain regarding unlawful treatment (such as discrimination, harassment, or victimization), the Equality Act won’t apply. Instead, one would gain protection under the legislation that was in force at the time. Post-October 1 2010, the Equality Act would apply to a complaint made. 

If one finds themself in a situation where they are wrongly discriminated against, they may make a complaint to the relevant authority. To do so, Research the procedure of complaints at the organization that one wants to complain about. For example, if one wants to complain against their employer, they may wish to talk to their manager, the union, or HR. If they wish to complain against a shop or hotel, they may need to contact the manager or customer services.

They must then send to the relevant authority a detailed complaint, specifying what happened, when, and where. In this complaint, the specific type of discrimination must also be detailed.

Once a response is received, if the complainant is unsatisfied with it they may go to the next step of the complaints procedure and seek relief from a tribunal.

It must be noted here that the Equality Act also protects those who are discriminated against or treated differently because they have complained about discrimination, either for themself or for someone else.