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Guidance and legislation on the Equality Act 2010 for England, Scotland and Wales.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single act, making the law easier to understand and strengthening protection in some situations. It sets out the different ways in which it’s unlawful to treat someone.

Before the act came into force there were several pieces of legislation to cover discrimination, including:

  • Sex Discrimination Act 1975
  • Race Relations Act 1976
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

If you wish to complain about possible unlawful treatment there are two separate processes, depending on when it happened.

If you were subjected to unlawful treatment (for example, discrimination, harassment or victimisation) before 1 October 2010, the Equality Act won’t apply. Instead, you’ll be covered by the legislation that was in force at the time.

The Race Relations Act 1976, not the Equality Act, will apply if you experienced racial discrimination on or before 30 September 2010 and want to make a complaint or bring legal proceedings.

This is also true of any legal proceedings. Even if they may have continued after 1 October 2010 they will go ahead according to the legislation under which they were brought.

If you were subject to unlawful treatment on or after 1 October 2010, the Equality Act applies.

If you experienced sex discrimination on 30 September 2010, which continued until 2 October 2010, The Equality Act will apply, not the Sex Discrimination Act.

Further information on the equality act and how it affects you can be found on the government's Equality Act 2010: guidance page. 

Definitions of protected characteristics


Where this is referred to, it refers to a person belonging to a particular age (for example, 32 year olds) or range of ages (for example, 18 to 30 year olds). For further information please see the age section of the Equality Act.


A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. For further information please see the disability section of the Equality Act.

Gender reassignment

The process of transitioning from one gender to another. For further information please see the gender reassignment section of the Equality Act.

Marriage and civil partnership

A person is legally married if the union is recognised as a marriage under UK law. Same-sex couples can also have their relationships legally recognised as 'civil partnerships'. Civil partners must be treated the same as married couples on a wide range of legal matters. For further information please see the marriage and civil partnership section of the Equality Act.

Pregnancy and maternity

Pregnancy is the condition of being pregnant or expecting a baby. Maternity refers to the period after the birth and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context. In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, and this includes treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding. For further information please see the pregnancy and maternity section of the Equality Act.


Refers to the protected characteristic of race. It refers to a group of people defined by their race, colour, and nationality (including citizenship) ethnic or national origins. For further information please see the race section of the Equality Act.

Religion and belief

Religion has the meaning usually given to it, but belief includes religious and philosophical beliefs including lack of belief (for example, Atheism). Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition. For further information please see the religion and belief section of the Equality Act.


A man or a woman. For further information please see the sex section of the Equality Act.

Sexual orientation

Whether a person's sexual attraction is towards their own sex, the opposite sex or to both sexes. For further information please see the sexual orientation section of the Equality Act.

You are also protected if you are discriminated against because you are perceived to have, or are associated with someone who has, a protected characteristic, for example protecting carers from discrimination. The Equality Act will protect people who are, for example, caring for a child or relative with a disability. They will be protected by virtue of their association to that person.

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