Want to know who is protected from discrimination under law, and in what way? See our guide to all the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

What employers need to be aware of

Keeping up with our fast-paced world can seem difficult. However, failing to understand the UK’s Equality Act 2010 and what classes as discrimination in employment could be majorly damaging to you or your company. 

This guide outlines everything you need to know. 

Equality Act 2010

Since October 2010, the Equality Act imposed a legal framework which clearly outlined discrimination in the workplace across the UK. Before this came into force, there were over 100 different pieces of legislation that the government rationalised into one act. 

This means that the act is all-encompassing, such that every instance of discrimination is outlined in this single piece of legislation. At Aspiring to Include, we want to get you up to speed with everything you need to know about the Equality Act. We have read it, so you don’t have to. 

Within the Equality Act 2010, it outlines the different characteristics in which employees are protected from discrimination within their employment. Note that in every bracket, the person who may be discriminated against doesn’t have to belong to that group for it to class as discrimination: If they are perceived to belong that group or are associated to that group, they can claim to have been discriminated on those grounds.  

The protected characteristics are: 


One of the most common forms of discrimination is ageism. This is often because an employer or colleague will not realise that what they are doing is discrimination.  

The Equality Act outlines that a person cannot be treated differently because they belong to, or appear to belong to, a particular age or range of ages.  

A common claim regarding age discrimination comes from older staff members who believe they have been overlooked for training or promotion by their superiors for younger colleagues. 


Someone has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment or condition that has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to undertake regular daily activities. 

If you would like to hear more about preventing disability discrimination, we have a sister-site[https://www.careerswithdisabilities.com] dedicated to helping inclusive employers hire disabled jobseekers.  

Gender Reassignment

If a person classifies themselves as, or is perceived by others as, transsexual, transgender, trans male or trans female, they are protected from gender reassignment discrimination. To be covered by the Equality Act, the person does not have any prerequisites in terms of the stage of their transition. 

If a cis person cross-dresses, the Equality Act does not cover them under gender reassignment discrimination, unless others perceive them as transexual for doing so.  

Marriage and Civil Partnership

Regardless of the sex of the couple, those who are married or in a civil partnership are protected under the Equality Act. Furthermore, civil partnerships cannot be treated as less significant than a marriage.  

Pregnancy and Maternity

This classifies anyone who is pregnant, expecting to have a baby (including via adoption), or has just had a baby. One example is of a person being treated unfavourably because they are breastfeeding 

For more information about maternity in the workplace, go to our sister-site Refreshing a Career. 


This section of the Equality Act refers to any person who belongs to, or who others perceive as belonging to, a group defined by their race, skin colour, nationality, citizenship, or ethnic or national origins.  

One group in the UK that falls under this term is the BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) community. For more information about BAME and the workplace, go to our dedicated page 

Religion or Belief

The Equality Act defines this characteristic as a person who follows, believes in or practices a religious or philosophical belief. This includes if the person specifically does not follow or practice such a belief.  

If the person’s belief does not obviously impact their actions, it may not be included in the Act’s definition. 


You cannot discriminate against someone due to their sex. For example, there is a history of women being overlooked for promotions due to their sex – this is discrimination and is illegal in the UK. 

To see why employers should pay more careful attention to discrimination against women in the workplace, we have created a guide to the benefits of hiring and supporting women in your company.  

Sexual Orientation

There are a number of sexual orientations, which should not influence decisions made in the workplace in any way. For more information on LGBTQ+ in the workplace, see our dedicated guide for employers.