Protection against discrimination in England, Wales and Scotland is provided by the Equality Act 2010, which brought together a number of different pieces of legislation.
Protection against discrimination in England, Wales and Scotland is provided by the Equality Act 2010, which brought together a number of different pieces of legislation. The law is generally similar in Northern Ireland, though equality legislation still exists as separate sets of regulations instead of being found in a single Act.
The Act gives workers protection from discrimination, harassment and victimisation. It also puts the onus on public sector organisations, and private and voluntary sector organisations which provide public services, to have what it calls 'due regard' to equality matters when making policy. This responsibility is imposed by the statutory 'Public Sector Equality Duty'. The scope of this is different in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The UK's equality watchdog is the Equality and Human Rights Commission, or EHRC, which is independent of government. It has produced a statutory Code of Practice on Employment. If you find yourself taking a claim to a tribunal, the tribunal panel must take the EHRC code of practice into consideration before reaching a decision. The NUJ and TUC have also produced many materials to help members and reps with discrimination and equality issues.
Employment law provides protection for workers against discrimination at work on the grounds of sex, pregnancy/maternity, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, sexual orientation, religion or belief, race, disability and age. These are called 'protected characteristics'.
The legislation is designed to achieve equality in the workplace by preventing less favourable treatment for people with a protected characteristic. The aim is equal treatment, not fair treatment. If your employer treats you and all your colleagues equally badly, they will not necessarily be in breach of equality laws. Nor will they if they treat you badly for a reason which is not connected to a protected characteristic.
There are additional laws in Northern Ireland to protect people from discrimination at work based on their political beliefs.
Whom does the law protect?
The sections of the Equality Act 2010 which are most relevant to NUJ members apply to (Law at Work 2020, p 222):
- Employees, former employees and job applicants.
- Contract workers, agency workers, sub-contract workers, temps, casual workers, zero hours contract workers, apprentices, people on vocational training, work placements or work experience.
- Freelancers, except those who work as a genuinely self-employed business, freely offering services to clients and customers on an arms-length basis.
- Members of a limited liability partnership.