Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 brings together and extends existing equality legislation
The Equality Act 2010 gained royal assent in April 2010, bringing together and extending equality legislation. The Act repealed previous anti-discrimination legislation.
Most of the Act has now been brought into force, although some outstanding sections are still being consulted on. The Government Equalities Office website has full details on the progress of the Act.
The Act applies to England, Scotland and Wales. Details on the Northern Irish anti-discrimination law are available in a separate briefing.
What the law covers
The Act introduced protected characteristics for which discrimination is unlawful. The protected characteristics under the Act are:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief (including lack of belief)
- sexual orientation
The legislation applies to both staff and students, before, during and after the relationship with the higher education institution (HEI).
The legislation covers employment, education, the provision of goods, facilities and services, the management of premises and the exercise of public functions.
There are exemptions for some of the protected characteristics, and these are noted on the specific law pages for each of the protected characteristics.
The Act makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate, victimise or harass employees or people seeking work.
HEIs therefore have a legal responsibility to ensure their employment practices do not disadvantage certain groups, unless the requirement is proportionate in the circumstances and contributes to achieving a legitimate aim.
Provision of goods, facilities and services
The Act prohibits discrimination and victimisation by people who supply goods, facilities or services.
HEIs should consider whether their facilities and services are appropriate for all staff and students, while remaining consistent with its operational needs, resources and overall mission.
Students are protected in the way they are admitted and treated in higher education. Teaching methods, delivery, and related issues, such as assessment, all need to comply with the main provisions of the Act, including those relating to direct and indirect discrimination and harassment.
There is no specific exemption related to the concept of academic freedom in the Act, but there is reference to the curriculum. The Act does not inhibit HEIs in including a full range of issues, ideas and materials from multiple perspectives in their curriculum.
Further information on the discrimination law in relation to employment, further and higher education and services, public functions and associations can be found in the statutory codes of practice, produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Public sector equality duty
The public sector equality duty requires HEIs to show due regard to the need to:
- eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Act
- advance equality of opportunity between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and people who do not share it
- foster good relations between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and people who do not share it
The duty covers all the protected characteristics recognised within the Equality Act with one exception. HEIs will only have to demonstrate due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination in employment for the characteristics of marriage and civil partnership.
HEIs can provide separate targeted provision around education, training and welfare to different groups on the basis of protected characteristics.
These voluntary positive action measures must look to alleviate disadvantage experienced by people who share a protected characteristic, reduce underrepresentation in relation to particular activities, and meet particular needs.
Such measures would need to be a proportionate way of achieving the relevant aim. Sometimes an HEI will have reasonable justification for not providing targeted support.
ECU has produced a briefing outlining the full implications of the Act for HEIs: