Definition and explanation
The Equality Act 2010 introduced the term "protected characteristics" to refer to groups that are protected under the Act. These are listed below.
Means a person or persons belonging to a particular age group. An age group includes people of the same age and people of a particular range of ages. Where people fall into the same age group they share the protected characteristic of age.
In the Act, a person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day-to-day activities.
For the purposes of the Act, these words have the following meanings:
- 'substantial' means more than minor or trivial
- 'long-term' means that the effect of the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least twelve months (there are special rules covering recurring or fluctuating conditions)
- 'normal day-to-day activities' includes everyday things like eating, washing, walking and going shopping
People who have had a disability in the past that meets this definition are also protected by the Act.
Progressive conditions considered to be a disability
There are additional provisions relating to people with progressive conditions. People with HIV, cancer or multiple sclerosis are protected by the Act from the point of diagnosis. People with some visual impairments are automatically deemed to be disabled.
Where people have the same disability, they share the protected characteristic of disability.
This is defined for the purpose of the Act as where a person has proposed, started or completed a process to reassign physiological or other attributes of their sex. A transsexual person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.
A woman making the transition to being a man and a man making the transition to being a woman both share the characteristic of gender reassignment, as does a person who has only just started out on the process of reassigning physiological or other attributes of their sex and a person who has completed the process.
Marriage and civil partnership
This refers to people who have the common characteristic of being married or of being civil partners. A heterosexual man and a heterosexual woman who are married to each other and a man and another man who are civil partners and woman and another woman who are civil partners all share the protected characteristic of marriage and civil partnership.
- People who are not married or civil partners do not have this protected characteristic
- A person who is engaged to be married is not married and therefore does not have this protected characteristic
- A divorcee or a person whose civil partnership has been dissolved is not married or in a civil partnership and therefore does not have this protected characteristic
Pregnancy and maternity
A woman remains protected in her employment during the period of her pregnancy and any statutory maternity leave to which she is entitled. This is now separate from protection on grounds of sex, which is not available to a woman during pregnancy and maternity.
It is unlawful to take into account an employee’s period of absence due to pregnancy related illness when taking a decision about her employment.
For the purposes of the Act, 'race' includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins.
People who have or share characteristics of colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins can be described as belonging to a particular racial group.
- Colour includes being black or white
- Nationality includes being a British, Australian or Swiss citizen
- Ethnic or national origins include being from a Roma background or of Chinese heritage
- A racial group could be 'black Britons' which would encompass those people who are both black and who are British citizens.
Religion or belief
This covers people with religious or philosophical beliefs. To be considered a religion within the meaning of the Act, it must have a clear structure and belief system.
The Act includes the following examples: The Baha’i faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Rastafarianism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.
To be considered a philosophical belief for the purposes of the Act, it must be:
genuinely held; be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint; be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
- The Act cites as examples of philosophical beliefs, Humanism and Atheism
- Adherence to a particular football team would not be a religion or belief
- A cult involved in illegal activities would not satisfy these criteria
People who are of the same religion or belief share the protected characteristic of religion or belief.
For the purposes of the Act, sex means being a man or a woman.
Men share the sex characteristic with other men and women with other women.
This is defined in the Act as a person’s sexual orientation towards:
- people of the same sex as him or her (in other words the person is a gay man or a lesbian)
- people of the opposite sex from him or her (the person is heterosexual)
- people of both sexes (the person is bisexual)
People sharing a sexual orientation mean that they are of the same sexual orientation and therefore share the characteristic of sexual orientation.
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