The new Equality Act covers precisely the same nine groups protected as before: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity. These are called Protected Characteristics [PCs]. However, the new law changes and strengthens certain aspects of the old.
So, what now constitutes unlawful discrimination? Here is our practical guide to staying on the right side of the new law.
- Direct discrimination – You cannot treat one person in an inferior way to another based on their having one or more of the protected characteristics, or because they are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic .
- Indirect discrimination – You cannot set policies or practices in your company that apply to everyone but disadvantages those with a PC. However, if you can show that you acted reasonably in managing your business, indirect discrimination can be justified. Formerly applied to age, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation and marriage and civil partnership. Now also applies to disability and gender reassignment.
- Discrimination arising from disability – If you know or could have reasonably been expected to know that someone is disabled, you must not treat them unfavourably because of this – unless you can show it is objectively justified.
- Perception discrimination – If you treat a person worse because you perceive they have a PC, this is another form of direct discrimination, whether or not they do. Formerly applied to age, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation. Now also applies to disability, gender reassignment and sex.
- Victimisation – If someone has made or supported a legitimate complaint under the Equality Act, you must not treat this person badly or victimise them.
- Harassment – You must not harass a person because of a PC i.e. violating their dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive atmosphere in which for them to work. This now applies to all PCs except pregnancy and maternity and marriage and civil partnership. Additionally, employees without a PC will now also be able to complain about behaviour they have found offensive even if it wasn't directed at them.
- Third party harassment – You are now potentially liable for harassment of your employees by third parties not employed by your organisation e.g. customers. The harassment must have happened on at least two previous occasions that you were made aware of and took no reasonable steps to prevent its reoccurrence. Formerly applied only to sex. Now also applies to age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation.