Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 , and the Equality Act 2010 it is illegal to taunt or harass or treat someone unfairly because they have a protected characteristic.

The Protected Characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership 
  • Pregnancy and Maternity 
  • Race 
  • Religion or Belief 
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

Where the law may come into effect:


These Acts protects people of all ages however, being treated differently just because of your age is not unlawful direct or indirect discrimination, providing this can be justified. Age is the only protected characteristic that allows employers to justify direct discrimination.


The Acts have made it easier for a person to show that they are disabled and protected from disability discrimination. Under the Acts, a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on their ability to carry out every day activities such as using a telephone, reading a book or using public transport.
The Acts puts a duty on an employer to make reasonable adjustments for staff, to help them overcome disadvantage resulting from an impairment, for example by providing assistive technologies to help visually impaired staff use computers effectively.
The Acts include a new protection from discrimination arising from disability. This states that it is discriminative to treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability, for example to make spelling mistakes arising from dyslexia. This type of discrimination is unlawful where the employer or other person acting for the employer knows, or could reasonably be expected to know, that the person has a disability. This type of discrimination is only justifiable if an employer can show that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Additionally, indirect discrimination now covers disabled people. This means that a job applicant or employee could claim that a particular rule or requirement you have in place, disadvantages people with the same disability. Unless you could justify this it would be unlawful.
The Acts also include a new provision which makes it unlawful, except in certain circumstances, for employers to ask about a candidate’s health before offering them work.

Gender reassignment

The Acts provide protection for transsexual people. A transsexual person is someone who proposes to, starts or has completed a process to change his or her gender. The law no longer requires a person to be under medical supervision to be protected – so a woman who decides to live permanently as a man but does not undergo any medical procedures would be covered. Transgender people such as cross dressers, who are not transsexual because they do not intend to live permanently in the gender opposite to their birth sex, therefore are not protected by the relevant Act.
It is discrimination to treat transsexual people less favourably for being absent from work because they propose to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment than they would be treated if they were absent because they were ill or injured. Medical procedures for gender reassignment such as hormone treatment, should not be treated as a ‘lifestyle’ choice.
Marriage and civil partnership

The Equality Act protects employees who are married or in a civil partnership against discrimination, single people are not protected.

Pregnancy and maternity

A woman is protected against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity during the period of her pregnancy and any statutory maternity leave she is entitled. During this time, pregnancy and maternity discrimination cannot be treated as sex discrimination. As an employer, when making decisions about a womans employment, you must not take into account any period of absence to due to pregnancy-related illness .
Under the Act, race includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins. A racial group can be made up of two or more different racial groups (eg Black Britons).

Religion or belief

In the Equality Act, religion includes any religion. It also includes protection for employees or jobseekers if they do not follow a certain religion or have no religious beliefs at all. Additionally, a religion must have a clear structure and belief system. Belief means any religious or philosophical belief or a lack of such belief. To be protected, a belief must satisfy various criteria, including that it is a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. Denominations or sects within a religion can also be considered a protected religion or religious belief.


Both men and women are protected under the Equality Act.

Sexual orientation

The Equality Act protects bisexual, gay, heterosexual and lesbian people.