Equality Act key legal changes


The majority of the Equality Act provisions were introduced in October 2010 with the rest being phased in over 2010-13. So what exactly is different from current anti-discriminatory legislation?

A fundamental difference is that new groups are now provided the same levels of protection from discrimination across all the protected characteristics and all sectors. Below is a summary of key changes:

The Act makes it unlawful for employers to ask job applicants questions about disability or health before making a job offer, except in specified circumstances.

It protects people discriminated against because they are perceived to have, or are associated with someone who has, a protected characteristic, For example protecting carers from discrimination.

The Equality Act will protect people who are, for example, caring for a disabled child or relative. They will be protected by virtue of their association to that person.

Protecting pregnant women and mothers from discrimination. The Equality Act makes clear that mothers can breastfeed their children in places like cafes and shops and not be asked to leave.

The Act also prohibits schools from discriminating against pupils who are pregnant or new mothers.

Extending the equality duty to require the public sector to take into account the needs of all protected groups (except marital and civil partnership status).The new Equality Duty will require public authorities to consider the needs of all the protected groups in, for example, employment and when designing and delivering services. Although timescales for this Duty are to be confirmed with the government.

Changing the definition of gender reassignment, by removing the requirement for medical supervision.

Harmonising the thresholds for the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.

Extending protection in private clubs to sex, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment.

 Public Sector Equality Duty

On 5 April 2011 the Public Sector Equality Duty (the Equality Duty) came into force in England, Scotland and Wales. This duty replaces the existing race, disability and gender equality duties.

 Introduction to the equality duty

 What is the Equality Duty?


The Public Sector Equality Duty consists of a general equality duty, which is set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 itself, and the specific duties which came into law on the 10th September 2011. The general equality duty came into force on 5 April 2011. In summary, those subject to the 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. These are sometimes referred to as the three aims or arms of the general equality duty.

The Act helpfully explains that having due regard for advancing equality 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. The Act states that meeting different needs involves taking steps to take account of disabled people’s disabilities. It describes fostering good relations as tackling prejudice and promoting understanding between people from different groups. It states that compliance with the duty may involve treating some people more favourably than others. The new duty covers the following eight protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Public authorities also need to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination against someone because of their marriage or civil partnership status. This means that the first arm of the duty applies to this characteristic but that the other arms (advancing equality and fostering good relations) do not apply.


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