Guidance on the new Equality Act

The Equality Act became law on 1 October 2010.

The Equality Act became law on 1 October 2010. It replaces previous legislation (such as the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 and the Disability Discrimination Act 2005) and makes equality law simpler and easier to understand. The Act provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all.

The Equality Act covers the same groups that were protected by existing equality legislation - age, disability, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation - these are now called 'protected characteristics'.  It also extends some protections to the following groups not previously covered:

  • Gender Reassignment - anyone who proposes to, starts or has completed a process to change his or her gender
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership - in the provision of service delivery or employment policy an employer must provide employees who are in a civil partnership with the same benefits as employees who are married.
  • Pregnancy and Maternity - this is now separate from sex discrimination and covers the period of a woman's pregnancy and any statutory maternity leave to which she is entitled.  Additional protection is provided for women who wish to breastfeed in public.

The legislation also strengthens particular aspects of equality law, and includes a mixture of rights and responsibilities that have:

  • Been introduced for the first time: for example, the concept of discrimination as a result of disability, which occurs if a disabled person is treated unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of their disability.
  • Changed: for example, employees can now complain of harassment even if it is not directed at them, if they can demonstrate that it creates an offensive environment for them Been extended - associative discrimination: - direct discrimination against someone because they associate with another person who possesses certain protected characteristics. For example, if someone is disadvantaged because they are caring for a disabled person, even though they themselves are not disabled.
  • Been extended - perceptive discrimination - when someone is discriminated against (or harassed) because others think they possess any of the protected characteristics, even if they do not. For example, if someone is subjected to derogatory comments because it is thought they are gay.
  • Stayed the same - for example, direct discrimination still occurs when "someone is treated less favourably than another person because of a protected characteristic".

If you are a leader/manager please also refer to the Equality Act manager's briefing on the Equality Service website.

To find out more information on the Equality Act and your rights and responsibilities, visit the following websites:
University of Leeds Equality Service
Equality Challenge Unit
Equality and Human Rights Commission

Alternatively, you can contact the Equality and Diversity Team by telephone 0113 343 3927 or email


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