More detail on the Equality Act


Breastfeeding mothers

In providing services and in education a woman who is breastfeeding is explicitly protected form unfavourable treatment within a period of 26 week from when she gave birth.   We may see more women breastfeeding babies in lectures, in catering venues and other parts of the university.  We may need to consider providing separate breastfeeding facilities for students’ use.


Staff and students who are carers may be protected from discrimination due to association with someone with a protected characteristic, e.g. a disabled child.


The act makes the employer liable in the case of harassment of its employees by third parties, such as maintenance contractors, unless the employer has taken reasonable steps to prevent the third party from doing so.   This only applies if the employer knows the employee has been harassed on at least two previous occasions, not necessarily by the same person.  On 24 March 2011 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that this provision would be scrapped.

Disabled people

Disabled people get increased protection

  • The definition of disability is extended to people who have had a disability in the past.
  • Indirect discrimination protection is extended to disability.
  • Protection is introduced against discrimination that occurs because of something connected with a person’s disability. This form of discrimination can be justified if it can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

  • There is now a single trigger for the duty to make reasonable adjustments when a disabled person experiences a ‘substantial disadvantage’. The previous duty applied when it was ‘impossible of unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to work, study or use a service’.
  • Disabled people are protected against direct discrimination in fields beyond employment, including the provision of goods and services (DDA limited protection to employment and related areas.)

Gender reassignment

The definition of gender reassignment has been amended, so that people no longer need to be under medical supervision to have protection under the law.

Pay discussions

The act introduces protection for people from victimisation by their employer if they discuss pay with colleagues, with a view to establishing if differences in pay may exist because of a protected characteristic. 

Pregnancy and maternity protection for students

  • A student who is pregnant or who has given birth within the last 26 weeks, is explicitly protected from unfavourable treatment.
  • We may need to develop policies and procedures to ensure consistent support for students during pregnancy and maternity.

Recruiting managers

  • The Act makes it unlawful for an employer to ask about the health of a job applicant before offering work, or including the applicant in a shortlist.  Questions about the health of an applicant should not be asked at interview.
  • It is still lawful to ask whether a disabled applicant needs any adjustments at interview, and it is lawful to collect equality data for monitoring.
  • People may be able to claim discrimination because of a combination of two protected characteristics, e.g. being a black man. On 24 March 2011 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that this provision would be scrapped.
  • Provisions for positive action in recruitment and promotion came into force on 6 April 2011, which allow an employer to appoint a candidate with a protected characteristic that is under-represented in the workplace when choosing between two candidates of equal merit.  Use of this provision is entirely voluntary.

Service providers

  • HEIs and students’ unions are considered service providers in terms of the Act.  Customers are protected against discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of a protected characteristic when requesting a service and during the course of being provided with the service. 
  • The ban on age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services will not come into force until 2012, since tis has major implications for insurance companies, but there is already protection against age discrimination in education.
  • A service provider has a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.