Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act was introduced in 2010, bringing together and extending existing equality legislation such as the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

The Equality Act 2010 requires the University to meet the Public Sector Equality Duty which states that Higher Education Institutions need to have due regard to advancing equality and eliminating bias.

Certain groups with ‘Protected Characteristics’ are covered under the Act. See here to find out more about the different types of unlawful discrimination against these groups. The Protected Characteristics are: 

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

If you would like further information on this content please contact Julie Campbell on j.l.campbell@sheffield.ac.uk or x21499.


The Act protects people of all ages. However, different treatment because of age is not unlawful direct or indirect discrimination if you can justify it (for example if you can demonstrate that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim). Age is the only protected characteristics that allows employers to justify direct discrimination


Under the purposes of the Act, 'race' includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins. It is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their race.


To find out about our work in this area see our Female Progression pages.

Both men and women are protected under the Act, and it is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of gender.

Sexual Orientation

To find out about LGBT at the University see our LGBT pages.

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

Pregnancy and Maternity

For more information on this area including the Women Academic Returners Programme see our maternity toolkit.

A woman is protected against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity during the period of her pregnancy and any statutory maternity leave to which she is entitled. During this period, pregnancy and maternity discrimination cannot be treated as sex discrimination. An employee's period of absence due to pregnancy-related illness must not be taken into account when making a decision about her employment. You must not take into account an employee´s period of absence due to pregnancy-related illness when making a decision about her employment.

Breastfeeding is explicitly protected under the Act.

Gender Reassignment

The Act provides 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 Act no longer requires a person to be under medical supervision to be protected – so a woman who decides to live as a man but does not undergo any medical procedures would be covered.

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


For information on how we comply with disability legislation see our Disability Confident pages.

Under the Act, 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 normal day-to-day activities, which would include things like using a telephone, reading a book or using public transport.
The Act puts a duty on the 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).

It is discrimination to treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability (for example, a tendency 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.

Indirect discrimination also covers disabled people, which 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 Act also includes a provision which makes it unlawful, except in certain circumstances, for employers to ask about a candidate´s health before offering them work.

Religion or Belief

In the Equality Act, religion includes any religion. It also includes no religion, in other words employees or jobseekers are protected if they do not follow a certain religion or have no religion at all. Additionally, a religion must have a clear structure and belief system. Belief means any religious or philosophical belief or no 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 be considered a protected religion or religious belief. Discrimination because of religion or belief can occur even where both the discriminator and recipient are of the same religion or belief.

This characteristic includes having a religion or belief and not having one. It does not include political or scientific beliefs. However, in one tribunal case a belief in man-made climate change met the threshold of the belief being `cogent, serious and worthy of respect in a democratic society.´ This threshold should be considered when determining if a person's belief falls under the protection of the Equality Act. It is important to note that minority religions are treated with the same consideration and respect as more prominent religions.


Marriage and Civil Partnership

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