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10th Anniversary of the Equality Act (2010) – What does it mean?
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Equality Act of 2010, a decade on we will explore what the equality act is and what more needs to be done.
What is the Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 – a landmark piece of legislation for which the TUC had long campaigned – has given us a unified legal framework and introduced some important new measures to advance equality. The Act consolidated the separate discrimination laws into a single Act and streamlined many of the legal definitions applying to the different equality groups. In addition, in some areas it broadened and improved the level of protection. The Act was the result of many years of campaigning by organisations like the TUC, trade unions and equality and human rights NGOs.
The act aimed to prohibit discrimination based on protected characteristics such as the following:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
Who is covered by the Equality Act?
The Equality Act covers all employers, and all employees and agency workers, regardless of the size of the business. It also covers job applicants and former staff.
The Equality Act also covers the Police or armed forces, and people on practical work experience, whether paid or unpaid. However, some volunteers are excluded from the protection of the employment provisions of the Equality Act.
The Equality Act covers people with a disability and also those who are not disabled but who the employer mistakenly believes to have a disability. This is known as perception discrimination. For example, it would be unlawful disability discrimination if an employer were to select an employee for redundancy because he wrongly believed she had cancer.
It also protects those who suffer discrimination because they associate with the disabled, for example as their carers. This is known as associative discrimination.
Do you have questions about the Equity Act? Find answers with this helpful FAQ here.
Understanding Prohibited Conduct
The Act also aims to protect against prohibited conduct which includes direct and indirect discrimination. The Equality Act states that a person (A) directly discriminates against another person (B) if ‘because of’ a protected characteristic they treat them less favourably than they treat or would treat others. Indirect discrimination can happen when an organisation puts a rule or a policy or a way of doing things in place which has a worse impact on someone with a protected characteristic than someone without one; disability and gender reassignment are given protection from indirect discrimination for the first time under the Act.
The Equality Act also protects against harassment. Harassment is any unwanted conduct, related to a protected characteristic, which has the effect of violating a person’s dignity, or creates a hostile, offensive, degrading, or humiliating environment; this includes specific protection against sexual harassment.
Victimisation occurs when a worker is treated badly by their employer (or a prospective or previous employer) because they have made or supported a complaint or raised a grievance under the Equality Act or because they are suspected of doing so. This legal provision is to ensure workers are not afraid of bringing complaints of discrimination under the Act and also that individuals such as trade union representatives that help them with their complaints or colleagues that provide information or evidence to support their claims are not targeted as a result.
An example of victimisation would be an employer providing a bad reference for an ex-employee because they had complained of discrimination. Note that the protection does not apply if a false allegation of discrimination or harassment was maliciously made or supported against an employer.
An important change introduced by the Equality Act was the concept of ‘unfavourable treatment because of something arising in consequence of disability’. The act protects employees from being discriminated against at work due to disability, this includes being treated unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of a disability. As a disabled worker, you shouldn’t be required to meet criteria that you would find much harder than a non-disabled person, or that you can’t achieve. Your employer must also make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to prevent you being substantially disadvantaged at work. And you should never face harassment or bullying because of your disability.
The duty to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled person
Under the Act, an employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to things like their premises, equipment, job tasks or employment policies to remove anything that places a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage. This recognises that often for
Like the old Equal Pay Act, the Equality Act includes a right to equal pay with someone of the opposite sex who is doing equal work in the same employment. Equal work means the same or similar work, work that is rated as equivalent under a job evaluation scheme, or work that is different but of equal value in terms of the level of skill, responsibility or effort that it requires. It is often the case - given the structure of the labour market, the ongoing gender pay gap and the undervaluation of the kind of work that women do - that it is women who are paid less than men despite doing equal work to them.
Still a way to go
There remain aspects of the Equality Act 2010 that are yet to be brought into force. For example the act outlines the duty of public authorities to take socio-economic inequality into account in respect of their policies which as been successfully implemented in Scotland and is being discussed in Wales but still remains uncommenced in England. 
Disabled people have yet to see the reasonable adjustment duty implemented, permitting them to make adjustments to the common parts of premises and discrimination on the basis of more than one protected characteristic also remains on the statute but remains unimplemented.
Other elements within the act that will not be coming into force are:
- dual discrimination: the government has decided not to bring this into force as a way of reducing the cost of regulation to business
- socio-economic inequalities under the Public Sector Equality Duty
10 years on from the Equality Act
The TUC is calling on the government to implement the Equality Act, challenging ministers to show how they have delivered on the legal duties in the act in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The TUC says that Covid-19 has deepened inequality and discrimination at work, and is calling on the government to:
- Bring the socio-economic duty into force: This was included in the original act but never implemented. It would require government and the public sector to deliver better outcomes for lower income people and make narrowing inequality a priority.
- Reintroduce protections subsequently taken out: Previous governments have stripped away protections that were originally in the Equality Act – such Section 40, which would make employers liable for harassment of their employees by customers or clients. The union body says that in the current situation where hostility and assaults on retail and hospitality staff are increasing during the pandemic, this should be reinstated urgently.
- Publish equality impact assessments for all government policies, as the law requires: in particular, the government should publish every equality impact assessment that they carried out to inform their response to Covid-19 – and should be held to account for those that are missing.
The TUC is concerned that ten years since it was introduced, the full powers of the act have still not been implemented. And there is little evidence that the government is fulfilling its legal duty to consider the impact on inequalities in the decisions it makes.
Everyone has the right to respect and equal treatment at work – and in wider society. Ten years on, the Equality Act isn’t fully in force. Now is the time for the government to implement it in full.
 Casserley, C (2020) The Equality Act 2010 a decade on; Available at https://www.lag.org.uk/article/207717/the-equality-act-2010-a-decade-on
 Equality and Human Rights Commission (2019) An introduction to the Equality Act 2010; Available at https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/equality-act-2010/what-equality-act#.
 Worksmart: Who is covered by the Equality Act? Available at; https://worksmart.org.uk/health-advice/health-and-safety/disability-rights/who-covered-equality-act
 Equality and Human Rights Commission: What is harassment and victimisation? Available at; https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/what-harassm…
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