Protected characteristics

The Equality Act - protected characteristics

The Equality Act 2010 sets out a duty for public bodies and others carrying out public functions. This duty's three aims are:

  • To eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act
  • To advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it
  • To foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it

Protected characteristics describe different groups of people in our community. The protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010 are as follows:


This characteristic refers to a person belonging to a particular age (e.g. 18 year olds) or range of ages (e.g. 25-44 year olds). This includes all ages, including children and young people.


A person has a disability if s/he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse affect on that person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.


Someone being a man or a woman

Gender reassignment

A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person's sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

Pregnancy and Maternity

Pregnancy is when a woman is expecting a baby. Maternity refers to the period after the birth, and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context. In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, and this includes treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.


This refers to a group of people defined by their race, colour, and nationality (including citizenship) ethnic or national origins.

Religion or belief

Religion means any religion and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion. Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.

Sexual orientation

Whether a person's sexual attraction is towards their own sex, the opposite sex or to both sexes.

Marriage and civil partnership

Public authorities also need to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination against someone because of their marriage or civil partnership status. This means that the first aim of the general equality duty applies to this characteristic but the other two aims do not. This applies only in relation to work, not to any other part of the Equality Act 2010.

Marriage is defined as a 'union between a man and a woman'. Same-sex couples can have their relationships legally recognised as civil partnerships.  Civil partners must be treated the same as married couples on a wide range of legal matters.