Office of the President and Provost (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion)


The Equality Act 2010

An overview of the main points of the Act in relation to key equality strands 

The Aim of the Equality Act 2010 is to 'harmonise discrimination law, and to strengthen the law to support progress on equality'. The Act has replaced all existing equality legislation, including the Equal Pay Act.

Protected Characteristics 

The following are classed as 'protected characteristics' in equality law: 


The Equality Act 2010 states that it is unlawful to discriminate against a person who is not a certain age or in a certain age group. It is also unlawful to discriminate by perception (when you assume someone is a particular age) and by association (when you are connected to someone of a particular age).


The Law defines a disabled person as, "someone with a physical or mental impairment which has substantial and long term adverse effect on his/her disability to carry out normal day to day activities." The definition is quite broad and includes, among other conditions, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain disorders, cancer and long term mental health conditions.

Gender Reassignment

Gender reassignment is defined as 'a process which is undertaken under medical supervision for the purpose of reassigning a person's sex by changing physiological or other characteristics of sex, and includes any part of such a process.' It is sometimes refered to as a 'sex change', though this term is now considered offensive to many members of the transgender community. 

Marriage and Civil Partnership

It is unlawful to discriminate against people who are married or in civil partnership. As defined by the law, civil partnership means someone who is legally married or in a civil partnership. Marriage is between a man and a woman, or between same sex couples. Civil partnership is between partners of the same sex.

This characteristic does not apply to:

  • Single people
  • Those living together as a couple but are not married or in a civil partnership
  • Those who are engaged to be married
  • Someone who is divorced or whose civil partnership has been dissolved.
Pregnancy and Maternity

It is unlawful to discriminate against an employee because of their pregnancy, or because they have given birth recently, are breastfeeding or on maternity leave. Discrimination is unfavourable treatment towards a woman because of her pregnancy, pregnancy-related illness, or her right to statutory maternity leave.


It is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their:

  • Race (e.g. whether they are Caribbean or Asian)
  • Colour (e.g. whether they are Black or white)
  • Nationality (e.g. whether they are Bangladeshi or Nigerian)
  • National Origin (e.g. whether they are Welsh or Kurdish)
  • Ethnic Origin (e.g. whether they are Jewish)
Religion and Belief

Discrimination law covers any religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief, but does not cover political belief or cults. Minority religions are treated with the same consideration and respect as more prominent religions. There is no exhaustive definition of these beliefs, but in a recent legal case it was determined that in order to be protected by law it must 'cogent serious and worthy respect in a democratic society.' There has been a tribunal case where a belief in man-made climate change met this threshold. 


The Equality Act 2010 recognises sex as a protected characteristic that protects men (being a man) and women (being a woman). Pregnancy, maternity, and gender re-assignment are now separate protected characteristics. 

Sexual Orientation

The term describes whether an individual is attracted towards people of the same sex (heterosexual), opposite sex (gay/lesbian) or both sexes (bisexual). It is not necessary to disclose sexual orientation when bringing a claim. An individual can bring a claim if they are being discriminated against on the basis that they are being perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual regardless of whether they actually are. 

Key Concepts 

These legal concepts are the backbone of equality law and are consistent across the protected characteristics. An in-depth knowledge of the law is not required in most situations.

For more advice on the law or to arrange a training session for your department contact us by email.

Direct Discrimination

Person A discriminated against Person B on the grounds of a protected characteristic. Person A treats Person B less favourably than they treat or would treat other people on the grounds of a protected characteristic. 

Example: "I'm not employing her because she might get pregnant" (direct sex discrimination).

Indirect Discrimination 

Person A discriminated against Person B, if Person A applies to Person B a provision, criterion or practice which they apply or would apply to everyone, BUT:

  • It puts or would put people of the same group as B at a particular disadvantage when compared with other people 
  • It puts Person B at a disadvantage 
  • Person A or the organisation cannot show it to be a 'proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim' 

If a person is treated less favourably after they have brought, or given evidence in a case of discrimination, this is unlawful. 

Example: "I lost some of my responsibilities after I made a complaint about the sexist banter in the office".


A person subjects another to harassment when they engage in unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of:

  1. Violating the other person's dignity, or 
  2. Creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. 

Visit our Dignity at Work page for further information. 

Discrimination by Association

This is when an individual is discriminated against due to their association with another person on the grounds of a protected characteristic.

For example: An individual may be subjected to harassment by their colleagues because they need to take time off to look after their disabled child. The harassment is on the basis of their child's disability, not the individual's. 

Positive Action

The 2010 Act permits employers to take measures designed to redress imbalances and counteract the effects of past discrimination. This is known in the law as 'positive action' and is designed to ensure that people from previously underrepresented groups can compete on equal terms with other applicants.

Employers can encourage job applications from underrepresented groups by the use of positive action statements in job adverts. It is UCL policy to do this. Appointments must be made entirely on merit, though if the situation arises that there are two equally strong candidates at interview, the post can be offered to the person from an underrepresented group. 

Employers can also provide training or mentoring only for a particular group, if in the preceding 12 months there were no persons from that group doing the work, or their number is small in comparison with those employed in the rest of the organisation, or in comparison with the population from which the employer normally recruits. 

Reasonable Adjustments 

These are the adaptations made in the workplace to enable a disabled person to work. These can include specialist equipment, a change to the hours or location of work or a relocation of duties. The 'reasonable' test takes into account several factors such as cost, impact on other team members, the nature of the work and space. 

Genuine Occupational Requirement (GOR)

An employer is allowed, when recruiting for a post, to treat job applicants differently if possessing a particular characteristic is a genuine requirement for that post. 

For example: It would be reasonable to require that a counsellor for female students who had experienced sexual harassment was female. 

                                                                               View the Equality Act 2010