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Discrimination law: The protected characteristics


The Equality Act 2010 sets out nine characteristics that are protected from unlawful discrimination.

The protected characteristics are:

An employee who has one or more of these characteristics is protected against discrimination in their employment because of that characteristic or characteristics.

There are four main types of discrimination, which apply to most of the protected characteristics. In addition, there is additional conduct that is prohibited that is specific to particular protected characteristics.

Unlike the other protected characteristics, less favourable treatment because of age is not direct discrimination if an employer can justify the treatment as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The definition of "employment, under s.83(2) of the Equality Act 2010, is broader than the definition of employment that is used for unfair dismissal and other employment claims. This means that the use of "employee" in this section should be read as including workers, apprentices, etc.

There are some limited exceptions to the principle of non-discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. A key exception is where an employer can show that having or not having a particular protected characteristic is an occupational requirement. The occupational requirement exception applies to all the protected characteristics. There are also specific exceptions that apply only to particular protected characteristics.

The Equality Act 2010 allows the use of positive action measures in certain circumstances, as well as in the specific context of recruitment and promotion.