The purpose of the Equality Act 2010 is to harmonise and strengthen discrimination law. On 1 October 2010, the coalition Government implemented most of its provisions without any amendments. Although a lot has been written about the Act, in reality it does not change a great deal but the devil is in the detail. For example, it remains unlawful to discriminate because of age, disability, gender re-assignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion and belief, sex or sexual orientation (the ‘protected characteristics’) but there are also new concepts of indirect disability discrimination and discrimination arising from disability. We set out below the Act’s main provisions and key changes:  

  • Harmonises key concepts in respect of defining discrimination including direct, indirect, justification, victimisation, harassment and discrimination by association or perception  
  • Redefines the concept of disability discrimination and introduce new concepts of indirect disability discrimination and discrimination arising from disability  
  • Permits employers to discriminate lawfully where there is an occupational requirement defence  
  • Encourages greater pay transparency by making pay secrecy clauses unenforceable in some situations and creates the power to compel employers to disclose details of the gender pay gap  
  • Prohibits employers from asking certain preemployment health-related questions  

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued three draft statutory Codes of Practice on employment, equal pay and services, and public functions and association The draft Codes are currently before Parliament and are expected to come into force at the end of November. In addition, the following provisions which are set out in the Act are expected to come into force in 2011 and 2012:  

  • Introduction of a new concept of ‘dual discrimination’ where an individual has at least two protected characteristics  
  • Extension of the concept of positive action in respect of recruitment and promotion  
  • Introduction of gender pay transparency regulations  
  • Creation of a single equality duty for public sector bodies and a new duty to consider social and economic inequalities when taking strategic decisions  
  • Prohibition of age discrimination in relation to goods, services and public functions  

Action required & key considerations

As with most legislative changes, employers do need to consider the impact of the Act. In particular, the employer should consider:  

  • Reviewing recruitment processes and documentation, including any questionnaires on health-related issues or equality and diversity monitoring  
  • Updating the equality and diversity, harassment and bullying policies  
  • Having an awareness of changes in respect of any ongoing or threatened disciplinary or grievance matters  
  • Holding internal training for HR and key line managers  
  • Updating any standard form documents which reference the ‘old’ discrimination legislation