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Equality Act – what does it mean in practice? | Immigration Matters

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The new Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010, targeting discrimination across a range of issues such as age, disability and pay.

The new Act has been presented as a ‘tidying up exercise’, consolidating nine separate pieces of legislation and making it easier to understand. However, there are a number of significant changes that have a real impact on employers and employees.

What does the Act cover?

The Act follows previous discrimination legislation protecting against discrimination on the following grounds:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender
  • Marriage and Civil Partnerships
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Religion or belief and lack of belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Discrimination defined

There are four main ways discrimination can take place:

  1. direct discrimination
  2. indirect discrimination
  3. harassment
  4. victimisation

Employers need to be aware of how those types of discrimination defined in the 2010 Act could impact employment related issues.

Direct discrimination occurs when a person treats another less favourably than they would because of a characteristic protected under the Act. For example, it will be unlawful to discriminate against a person because they associate with someone who has a ‘protected characteristic’.

Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the complainant, or violating their dignity.

Employees are also able to bring a claim against their employer where they have experienced discrimination at work even if it is from someone outside their employer’s


Discrimination on the grounds of disability

It is now much easier for someone to demonstrate that they are disabled and bring a claim for disability discrimination under the Equality Act.

A person is defined as disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities, which would include things like travelling to work, or excessive work load.

Pre-Employment Health Questions – Lawful or Unlawful?

Health related enquiries prior to employment are said to be one of the main reasons why disabled job applicants fail to make it to the interview stage of the job process.

The Equality Act now clearly states that employers cannot ask a job applicant any questions about their health either before offering work to an applicant.

The rule does not apply to questions necessary to establish a job applicant ability to perform job function intrinsic to the role. For instance, a care worker in a Care Home would normally be expected to be able to lift residents. It would not, therefore, be unlawful to request specific information or ask questions to establish an applicant’s ability to carry out this aspect of the role, provided the information is intrinsic to the role.

How much will the Equality Act cost UK Employers?

According to the government, the cost to businesses of just understanding the new legislation will be £189.2m. This is based on the cost of the hours spent getting to grips with the new rules. On top of that there will be the cost of amending policies on issues such as harassment and disability. The British Chambers of Commerce predicts that the number of claims against employers will also rise.


A frequently asked question is:

I’ve heard the act targets pay inequality and, as a woman, should I be asking for a pay rise?

If you have information that a male colleague is being paid more than you for doing equivalent work, the answer is “yes” according to Matthew Tom, employment partner at Candey LLP.  

Equal pay questionnaires can still be submitted to the employer to require them to answer specific and detailed questions about this, even though employers will not be required to publish pay information automatically.

If I’m pregnant, disabled or from an ethnic minority, will I now find it easier to get a job?

In general terms, the new act will not make a difference given that pregnant, disabled or ethnic minority employees were already protected under the previous legislation.

However, the ban on pre-employment health questionnaires may make it easier for disabled job applicants to receive job offers, according to Richard Yeomans, partner at Addleshaw Goddard LLP.

What should I do if I feel that I am still feeling discriminated against?

There is no real change here – you should still raise grievances under the employer’s policies.

Majestic College are running a series of short training courses to help employers understand the new Equality Act.

If you would like further information, please email

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