As a business owner, navigating UK employment law can be daunting. With a raft of legislation, regulations and case law affecting the workplace, complying with the UK Equality Act 2010 is a key requirement for employers and there can be serious reputational and financial consequences for not meeting the required standards. In this blog, we will look at the key requirements of this legislation and what this means to you as an employer.

What is the UK Equality Act?

Introduced to UK legislation in October 2010, the UK Equality Act intends to ensure workplace fairness and is now the cornerstone of legislation relating to equality diversity and discrimination. It replaced nine separate pieces of legislation (including the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and Race Relations Act 1976) and simplified the requirements in one place as a single act to protect people from discrimination in the workplace and wider society.

Protected Characteristics

“Protected characteristics” is the collective name of a group of nine personal attributes, and it is unlawful to discriminate against individuals based on them in line with their Equality Act definitions. The protected characteristics outlined in the Act are as follows:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

It is crucial for employers to understand that discrimination based on any of these characteristics is unlawful and can result in significant legal consequences.

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Prohibited Conduct

There are four types of prohibited conduct and discrimination under the Equality Act:

  • Direct discrimination: when someone is treated less favourably than others because of a protected characteristic.
  • Indirect discrimination: when a policy, practice or rule that applies to everyone impacts individuals more because of a protected characteristic unless it can be objectively justified.
  • Harassment: refers to unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic that has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
  • Victimisation: happens if an individual is treated unfavourably because they have made a complaint of discrimination.

Responsibilities of Employers

To ensure compliance with the Equality Act, employers must ensure that their policies and practices do not discriminate against individuals with protected characteristics. Employer responsibilities include:

  • Ensuring that all elements of the recruitment and selection process are free from discriminatory language and requirements so that the best candidate for the job is objectively selected.
  • Providing equal opportunity in terms of pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment, regardless of any protected characteristics.
  • Offering development opportunities to all employees, regardless of protected characteristics.
  • Objectively making promotion decisions based on merit rather than protected characteristics.
  • Ensuring that dismissal and redundancy decisions are fair and that any selection criteria used are based on legitimate business reasons rather than protected characteristics.

Equality in the Workplace

Ensuring compliance is the baseline. To promote equality and diversity in the workplace it’s essential to implement practical strategies such as providing diversity training for all employees, having clear policies against discrimination and harassment and actively recruiting from diverse talent pools. By prioritising equality, organisations can create an inclusive workplace, attract top talent and develop a culture where everyone can thrive.

Handling Discrimination Complaints

If an employee has discrimination complaints, they can be raised informally or formally via the grievance procedure. Employee complaints or grievances are an opportunity to resolve concerns and make improvements. Once received the Company’s procedure should be followed and action taken to resolve the concerns as an urgent priority.

Legal Consequences and Penalties

Discrimination is one of the most serious claims that can be made at an employment tribunal and is taken very seriously by tribunal judges and by society at large. There is no upper limit for discrimination claims and a tribunal judge can make an award for equality act penalties based on financial loss of the claimant and injury to feelings based on the seriousness of the situation. There is also the possibility of a personal injury claim.

Resources for Employers

Specialist advice, support and resources for employers are readily available from both the public and charity sectors in addition to professional HR support. Equality Act support can be found from a range of organisations.

  • Age: Age UK offers support and advice for older individuals facing discrimination or age-related issues in the workplace.
  • Disability: Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) provides information and assistance on disability discrimination and reasonable adjustments in the workplace.
  • Gender reassignment: GIRES offers support and resources for individuals undergoing gender transition or facing discrimination based on gender identity.
  • Marriage and civil partnership: Stonewall provides advocacy and support for LGBTQ+ individuals, including those in same-sex marriages or civil partnerships.
  • Pregnancy and maternity: Maternity Action offers advice and assistance for pregnant employees and new mothers facing discrimination or unfair treatment in the workplace.
  • Race: The Runnymede Trust provide resources and support relating to racial discrimination or harassment.
  • Religion or belief: ACAS offers guidance on religious discrimination and accommodations in the workplace.
  • Sex: The Fawcett Society advocates for gender equality.
  • Sexual orientation: LGBT Foundation and Stonewall provide support and resources about discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace.


To comply with the UK Equality Act and leverage the opportunities of a diverse and inclusive workplace, it’s essential to first understand your legal obligation to ensure that your team are protected from discrimination. With this information, take the time to assess your employment practices to see whether they could directly or indirectly be impacting employees with protected characteristics. MAD-HR can support you with this, ensuring that your employment practices and documentation are both compliant and optimal for your business. A great place to start is with an audit to determine your starting point.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Useful questions and answers about “Understanding the UK Equality Act 2010: A Guide for Employers”

How can I promote equality and diversity in the workplace?

You can promote equality and diversity in a variety of ways such as implementing inclusive policies, providing diversity training, ensuring fair recruitment, offering mentoring, celebrating cultural events, addressing biases, promoting flexible working, and fostering an open, respectful culture for all. Regularly measure and monitor your progress so that you can review and update your practices.

What is equality and diversity in the workplace?

Equality and diversity in the UK workplace means ensuring fair treatment and access to opportunities for all employees, going beyond the legal duty not to discriminate and promoting an inclusive environment where diverse and varied perspectives are valued.

Why is equality and diversity in the workplace important?

In addition to meeting the legal requirements of the UK Equality Act and therefore protecting the Company's reputation, equality and diversity are crucial because fair and inclusive environments enhance creativity and innovation through diverse perspectives and improve employee engagement.