Equality Act

The Equality Act 2010 brought together and added to over 100 previous pieces of legislation that had formed the basis of anti-discrimination law in Great Britain. These consisted, primarily, the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and three major statutory instruments protecting discrimination in employment on grounds of religion or belief, sexual orientation and age.

In Section 4, the Act protects people against discrimination, harassment or victimisation in employment, and as users of private and public services based on nine protected characteristics:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

The Act includes provisions for single-sex services where the restrictions are “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Further information on the history and details of the Act can be found on the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC): What is the Equality Act?


The Act clearly defines the protected characteristic of sex at section 11:

In relation to the protected characteristic of sex—
(a) a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a man or to a woman;
(b) a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to persons of the same sex.

The Act, at section 212, states what is meant by ‘man’ and ‘woman’:

“man” means a male of any age;
“woman” means a female of any age.

This should be entirely obvious but attempts to obscure what the terms mean must be challenged.

Gender pay gap

When it comes to comparing the pay gap between female and male employees, the Equality Act (at section 78) unfortunately uses the term ‘Gender pay gap’, but the Act is clear that this refers to “differences in the pay of male and female employees”. The use of this term in this context cannot be used as a justification for substituting gender for sex when referring to the protected characteristic.