Equality Law Explained

The Equality Law 2010 merged numerous laws to cover multiple areas to fight against discrimination under one umbrella. Before it came into place, the Sex Discrimination Act, the Disability Discrimination Act and the Race Discrimination Act were held in its place. The purpose of the new act is to provide protection to all workers while also providing updated guidance on maintaining an equal workforce.

What Is The Equality Act?

The Equality Act, brought into common law in 2010, protects the rights of all workers in the UK. Workforces must support their workers regardless of their background and they must be supported should any of their rights be compromised. There are four types of discrimination, including: 

  • Direct discrimination (treating another person worse than another because of a protected characteristic) 
  • Indirect discrimination (putting in a rule or policy which impacts someone with a protected characteristic) 
  • Harassment (treating someone in a way which creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment)
  • Victimisation (treating someone unfairly because they have taken action under the Equality Act)

Any one of these would put someone in breach of the act, whether that is the employer or the employee. If a breach is reported, the person who made the complaint would potentially be able to sue for damages and the person the claim is made about could be subject to disciplinary action.

The Act and Its Codes Of Practice

The Codes of Practice were slightly behind in becoming law, coming into place six months after the Equality Act was issued in 2010. They support the Equality Law by providing explanations in further detail of certain aspects of the Act, acting as a way to assist courts and tribunals when interpreting the law.

As the Equality Act doesn’t go into too much detail, the Codes of Practice will act as a helpful tool and an authoritative source of advice, particularly for lawyers and HR. The Code of Practice provides in depth detail on equal pay, employment, and services, public functions and associations. The most commonly requested codes cover both equal pay and employment, which we will explain in reference to the codes below.

Equal Pay

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has complete authority to carry out any inquiries, in this instance into pay gaps and conducting investigations into any employer which they believe could be using discriminatory pay practices. Historically women were paid less than men for doing the same job, this is something that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has continuously fought to end, ultimately making routes to encourage equal pay across all platforms. The specific equal pay code focuses on gender, but it can be used to challenge any other kinds of discrimination under the protected characteristics of the Equality Act.


Under the Employment Codes of Practice, the Equality and Human Rights Commission supports organisations in knowing their rights for discrimination cases. As part of the Code of Practice, the protected characteristics are highlighted, as are the rights of workers. The aim of the code is to help employers understand their responsibilities, while also helping lawyers and other advisors to support their clients; it is also important to note that the code recognises that small businesses may act differently to large businesses, but they are all required to adhere to the same equality laws. Any breaches of the code can result in a financial penalty and potential dismissal. 

What Are Protected Characteristics?

Various groups were protected prior to the Equality Act 2010 under the Sex Discrimination Act, the Disability Discrimination Act and the Race Discrimination Act, but as of 2010 they were built into one act to support all workers with the potential to be discriminated against. 

As of 2010, it is now a breach of the code to discriminate against someone because of the following:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage & Civil Partnerships
  • Pregnancy & Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

For example, it would be a breach of the code to not give a newly married woman a promotion because you believe she may want to get pregnant soon, future family and their marriage should not be a factor towards a job role. Similarly, it would be discriminatory to avoid giving a 60-year-old a job at your company because they will be retiring in the coming years. 

Who Has A Responsibility Under The Act?

Employers have a responsibility to ensure they are adhering to the Act, or they could be held liable if they are in breach, resulting in paid damages and/or disciplinary action. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that all of their employees are well-aware of the Act and that there are rules and policies in place to ensure that they are protecting their employees. The Codes of Practice can advise employers in greater detail on the Act, allowing them to follow it in its entirety while supporting all employees with their support. When implementing the best course of action in supporting the Act, it is ideal to not only have it in place but to actively pursue it and support all employees where possible. Equality experts ICENA provide courses to support businesses in maximising their equality and diversity policies within an organisation. 

What Changed With The Equality Act 2010?

Mostly, the Act saw the introduction of further discrimination laws and explained their processes in further detail. Prior to the Act, the three anti-discrimination laws covered sex, disability and race, but in the years that followed, many more people were welcomed into workforces without fear of discrimination. This meant that workplaces needed to make changes where necessary to ensure that they were giving equal opportunity to all workers and that they were not turning someone away for a job because of any of the protected characteristics.

Ultimately, the Act has enabled all people to have the freedom to work without anything holding them back; this has also meant that the workforce should implement policies to ensure all workers feel protected and supported within the organisation.