An overview of equality and diversity legislation
Equality and diversity legislation exists for each of the equality strands of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion/belief and age. An overview of some of the key legislation, for each equality strain, is detailed here. You can click on the link to access the legislation listed.
Race Relations Act (1976) & Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000)
This Act and its Amendment makes discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin unlawful. It covers people from all racial groups, including white people.
Following the Amendment (2000), it includes more public authority functions and places a general duty on public authorities to promote race equality.
Race Relations Act (1976) (Amendment) Regulations (2003)
This Amendment further enhanced the legislation, updating the definition of indirect discrimination.
Racial and Religious Hatred Bill (2005)
This Bill was introduced to make it illegal to threaten people because of their religion, or to stir up hatred against a person because of their faith. It is designed to fill gaps in the current laws, which already protect people from threats based on their race or ethnic background.
The Bill passed successfully through the House of Commons and the House of Lords on 31 January 2005 and should become law soon. The final Bill was altered by the Lords in two key ways:
- Only threatening words or behaviour will be classified as criminal. Generally abusive or insulting words about religion that are not actually threatening will not be illegal; and
- The burden will be on the prosecution to prove the speakers intended to stir up racial hatred – the bill has strong safeguards for free expression.
Any prosecutions under the Bill will also have to be approved by the Attorney General.
Sex Discrimination Act (1975)
This Act applies to women and men of any age, including children, and makes discrimination on the grounds of sex or marriage unlawful. However, it is not unlawful to discriminate against someone because they are not married.
Victimisation, because someone has tried to exercise his or her rights under this Act, is also unlawful.
The Sex Discrimination Act (1975) (Amendment) Regulations (2003)
This Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone after a formal relationship with an employer has ended - if the discrimination arises out of, and is closely connected to, that relationship.
In addition, it makes Chief Officers of police liable for unlawful acts of sex discrimination, committed by police constables against other police constables, in the course of their duties.
The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations (1999)
These regulations are a measure to prevent discrimination against transsexual people, on the grounds of sex, in pay and treatment in employment and vocational training.
They extend the Sex Discrimination Act (1975), for the purposes of employment and vocational training, by making discrimination on the grounds of gender reassignment, equivalent to discrimination on the grounds of sex.
The Gender Recognition Act (2004)
This Act provides transsexual people with all of the rights and responsibilities appropriate to their acquired gender. For example, the right to marry in their acquired gender, birth certificates that recognise their acquired gender, and benefits and state pension of their acquired gender.
The Equal Pay Act (1970)
This Act gives an individual a right to the same contractual pay and benefits as a person of the opposite sex in the same employment, where the man and the woman are doing like work, work rated as equivalent under an analytical job evaluation study or, work that is proved to be of equal value.
However, the employer will not be required to provide the same pay and benefits if they can prove that the difference in pay or benefits is genuinely due to a reason other than one related to sex.
The Equal Pay Act (1970) (Amendment) Regulations (2003)
This Amendment introduced two changes to the 1970 Act: it allows the six month time limit for bringing equal pay claims to be extended, in cases of concealment or disability and, allows for the two-year limit on back pay to be extended up to six years, in cases of concealment and disability.
The Disability Discrimination Act (1995)
This Act deals with discrimination against disabled people and applies to all those who provide goods, facilities and services to the public.
The Disability Discrimination Act (2005)
This Act amends/extends the provisions of the 1995 Act, including:
- making it unlawful for operators of transport vehicles to discriminate against disabled people;
- ensuring that discrimination law covers all the activities of the public sector; and
- a duty for public bodies to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people.
Some of the new laws will not be enforced until December 2006 (such as the duty to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people).
Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (2003)
These regulations outlaw discrimination (direct or indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation) in employment, and vocational training, on the grounds of sexual orientation. It covers people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual.
The Civil Partnerships Act (2004)
This Act permits a legal relationship to be formed by two people of the same sex, which is distinct from marriage. It gives same sex couples the ability to obtain legal recognition of their relationship.
Religion or Belief
Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations (2003)
These Regulations outlaw discrimination (direct or indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation) in employment and vocational training on the grounds of religious belief or similar philosophical belief. Non-belief is also covered by the regulations.
Age Discrimination Act
Age discrimination in employment and training will become unlawful from 1st October 2006. The Age Discrimination Act is due to come into force in December 2006. The legislation will cover all forms of age discrimination including discrimination of both younger and older individuals. For organisations, the key issue in the discrimination field is developing workable age legislation. This could impact on a wide range of employment practices including; graduate recruitment programmes, redundancy practices and, crucially, whether firms will be prohibited from setting retirement ages. Several discussions have focused on the impact the legislation is likely to have on mandatory retirement age.
The Human Rights Act (1998)
This Act incorporates rights under the European Convention of Human Rights into domestic law. Individuals can bring claims under this Act against public authorities for breaches of Convention Rights (Convention Rights include, a right not to be discriminated against on non-exhaustive grounds where another Convention right is engaged).
UK courts and tribunals are required to interpret domestic law, as far as possible, in accordance with Convention Rights. Previous case law may be overturned if there is a breach of Convention Rights and the relevant law can be re-interpreted in a way, which is compatible with Convention Rights.