In 2009 the government stated that if no action was taken to deal with the widespread discrimination which exists in society, the pay gap between men and women will not close until 2085 and it will take a further 25 years for people from ethnic minorities to have the same job prospects their white counterparts. In response to this concern, the Equality Act came into force on 10 October 2010.
It replaced the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, much of the Equality Act 2006, the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.
The Equality Act 2010 outlines the following "protected characteristics” which relate to an employee’s:
- gender reassignment;
- marriage and civil partnership;
- pregnancy and maternity;
- religion or belief;
- and sexual orientation.
Types of discrimination in employment law
There are various types of discrimination covered by employment law and other unlawful conduct set out in the Equality Act 2010 that apply to most (and in some cases all) of the protected characteristics:
- Direct discrimination - occurs where "because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others".
- Indirect discrimination – is where (for example) decisions or policies that are not intended to treat anyone less favourably, in practice have the effect of disadvantaging a group of people with a particular protected characteristic. There is a defence where the indirect discrimination can be objectively justified.
- Harassment – occurs if A engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of either violating B's dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.
- Victimisation - protects employees who do (or might do) protected acts such as bringing discrimination claims, complaining about harassment, or becoming involved in another employee's discrimination complaint.
It is unlawful for a person to instruct, cause, induce and aid in discrimination.
Who is protected?
The Equality Act 2010 protects a wide range of individuals within the field of work, such as employees, workers, job applicants, trade organisation and the police.
Who can be liable?
Employers may be liable for the unlawful actions of their employees, agents and third parties. However, employers have a defence if it can show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory / unlawful act.
Claims may also be brought against the claimant’s manager, colleague, agent or third party who was responsible for the discrimination, harassment or victimisation complained of.
In the event that a claimant is successful in their claim(s) under the Equality Act 2010, they may be awarded compensation for injury to feelings, aggravated damages (in rare cases), recommendations, and declarations.
Where a claimant has been dismissed because of a protected characteristic, the statutory cap of £72,300 is removed and consequently compensation in this regard can be unlimited.