Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010) is arguably the most important piece of employment legislation for many years.

It has the express aim of harmonising and strengthening existing equality legislation and its impacts on all employers.

The new law brings together existing discrimination legislation concerning nine ‘protected characteristics’: sex, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, gender re-assignment, pregnancy/maternity, and marriage/civil partnership.

The majority of the EA 2010 came into force on 1 October 2010.

Changes include:

  • • Protection against associative discrimination, for example an employer refusing to employ someone because they care for an elderly person, and perceptive discrimination, i.e. based on the incorrect perception that someone has a protected characteristic.
  • • Extending protection from third party harassment to all protected characteristics (not just sex), for example a racist joke told by co-employee will be conducted relating to race, potentially amounting to harassment of a colleague who is offended, regardless of the race of that person.
  • • Extending protection from indirect discrimination to disability cases.
  • • Introducing a new concept of ‘discrimination arising from disability’ to replace protection from ‘disability-related discrimination’ contained in previous legislation which had been lost as a result of a recent legal judgment.
  • • Employers are now prevented from asking pre-employment health questions, except in limited specified circumstances.
  • • Making pay secrecy clauses in employment contracts unenforceable (as secrecy clauses were seen by the government as preventing employees from obtaining information about a colleagues’ salary which would support an equal pay claim).
  • • New powers for employment tribunals to make recommendations in relation to the workforce as a whole, not simply the employee bringing the claim.
  • • General provisions allowing voluntary positive action to overcome a group’s disadvantage.

The EA 2010 consolidates and broadens existing legislation. It is several hundred pages long and the government is still considering how to implement certain aspects of it.

The new provisions impact on all employers and as such, employers are strongly recommended to ensure their equal opportunities and recruitment policies are updated to ensure compliance to minimize the risk of expensive tribunal claims.

Roger Spence
Harrison Drury Solicitors