The Equality Act 2010 brought together 116 individual pieces of legislation relating to discrimination across all facets of UK society.
For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, the act bans discrimination in many areas of our lives. Several key areas addressed by the act are:
- Goods, facilities and services
The Act protects people with “protected characteristics”, two of which are sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
Two main types of discrimination are defined in the Act:
Direct Discrimination happens when someone treats you less favourably specifically because you have a protected characteristic.
Example: A hotel operator refuses to give a same sex couple a double room.
Example: A clothes shop will not allow a trans person to use the changing room which accords with their gender identity.
Indirect Discrimination is any rule, policy or practice, that although uniformly enforced, has a disproportionately adverse affect on people with a protected characteristic. Unlike direct discrimination this type of discrimination can be justified if the measure is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. That means that if there is a real reason for the policy, for example health and safety concerns, and there is no other less discriminatory measure that could be used as an alternative then it may be justified. Blanket policies are unlikely to meet this test.
Example: an employer requires their employees to spend a certain amount of time working in their offices in a number of international locations, some of which have very strict laws on sexuality. This rule applies equally to all employees but would have a disproportionally negative impact on lesbian, gay and bisexual employees.
Additionally, the Equality Act prohibits these other forms of discrimination:
Associative Discrimination is discrimination directed at someone for associating with someone who has a protected characteristic.
Perceptive Discrimination occurs when someone is discriminated against because it is believed that they have a particular protected characteristic. This applies whether they have the characteristic or not.
Harassment is “unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.” The behaviour does not necessarily have to be directed at the complainant, nor does the complainant have to possess the protected characteristic.
Example: On a number of occasions colleagues make derogatory comments and use offensive language to describe a transsexual character on TV. If another employee feels that this creates an intimidating working environment for them then they have experienced harassment related to the protect characteristic of gender reassignment.
Third Party Harassment is harassment by people who are not employees or principals of the organisation against whom the complaint has been lodged, but should have been reasonably controlled by the organisation.
Victimisation occurs when a person is subject to poor treatment for making or supporting a complaint or raising a grievance under the Equality Act.
It is important to understand that an organisation is liable for the behaviour of all of its employees and representatives. The existence of policies prohibiting discrimination does not absolve the organisation of liability for discriminatory behaviour by any of its representatives.