The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 brings together more than forty years of equality legislation and aims to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all.

The Equality Act covers discrimination at work, equal access to goods and services, education, access to public premises and associations/voluntary groups.

The Act identifies sexual orientation as a ‘protected characteristic’ group which means people  who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual/straight are protected against four types of discrimination:

  1. Direct discrimination, for example, is refusing someone a job or service because of their sexual orientation.
  2. Indirect discrimination is making decisions, or a public body planning services, in a way that disadvantages lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual/straight people unless the policy can be objectively justified.
  3. Discrimination by association is about discrimination of a person because of their association with another person; for example, as a family member or a carer.
  4. Discrimination by perception is about the discrimination of people based on the perception that they have a particular sexual orientation even if that is not in fact the case.

N.B: Victimisation (treating someone unfavourably because they have complained of discrimination) is considered unlawful conduct.

"What does this mean for me?"

You should be treated the same regardless of your sexual orientation. You can ask a union for help (you don’t have to be a member) or contact ACAS (see key contacts).

There is a lot of detail to the law, but some of the key points include:

  1. In the workplace including:
    • when applying for a job
    • being at work
    • being offered promotion and training
    • redundancy
  2. Pre-employment healthcare questionnaires are now illegal, so any new employer cannot ask if you are pregnant or HIV positive, for example.
  3. Generally, any person or organisation who offers a service or products to the public (including public services, commercial services and charity-provided services you don’t pay for) should not discriminate against you, because you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual/straight.

The Equality Act 2010 does allow gay-specific groups and venues, as long as they have an ‘objective justification’.

For example, a voluntary social group for newly out gay men is justifiable, because one of the purposes of the group would be to help gay men deal with the discrimination they face.

The Act does allow some legal discrimination, although this is complex. Charities have special exemptions such as only offering membership to followers of a particular religion or belief.

Religion or belief organisations where they are providing public services (not religious services) can refuse membership, participation, use of goods/facilities/premises because of a person’s sexual orientation or the religion or belief – but not where contracted to provide services by a public body or where it would normally charge.

Churches and other organised religions (but not other faith-based organisations) can refuse to employ or sack LGB people for being LGB if that employer can demonstrate that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is incompatible with their faith/religion.

However, the ban on Civil Partnerships being held in religious premises has been lifted by the Act. Exactly how this change will be made in practice is yet to be decided. Religious organisations will not be forced to hold civil partnerships.

August 2011