The Equality Act 2010 recognises and protects nine equalities characteristics in law, making discrimination on the basis of these characteristics illegal. The nine characteristics, called protected characteristics, are:
- Age – where this is referred to, it refers to a person belonging to a particular age (e.g. 32 year olds) or range of ages (e.g. 30 to 34 year olds)
- Disability – a person has a disability if she or he has 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
- Gender reassignment – the process of transitioning from one gender to another
- Marriage and civil partnership – Marriage was defined as a ‘union between a man and a woman’, until The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passed in 2013. Since 2014, same sex couples have been able to marry in England and Wales. Same sex couples can also have their relationships legally recognised as ‘civil partnerships’, although the future of this legal status is being examined after the passing of The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. Civil partnerships to heterosexual couples is also recognised in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
- 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
- Race – 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
- Religion and belief – ‘Religion’ generally refers to the wide range of recognised and widely practised religions that are in existence across the globe today. ‘Belief’ refers to philosophical beliefs such as humanism. It also covers lack of belief, such as atheism. The Equality Act does not list recognised beliefs but generally a belief should affect the individual’s life choices or the way they live. People with no faith are also protected from discrimination for reasons of religion or belief.
- Sex – a man or a woman
- Sexual orientation – whether a person’s sexual attraction is towards their own sex, the opposite sex or to both sexes