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Protected characteristics – a timely reminder

Have some employers lost sight of what is right as their businesses struggle to survive? Could there be some kind of “coronamadness” amongst the business community?

Over the last few weeks, we have seen an increasing number of cases where employers have broken laws set out in The Equality Act 2010. These are just a few examples:

  • An employer using age as criteria for redundancy selection.
  • A clinically vulnerable employee being asked to use a different entrance and sit in a different area of the building because her employer believed that she was more likely than others to bring the coronavirus into the office.
  • A senior member of staff being described in a derogatory manner because of his nationality and told not to sign off on documents because of his foreign surname.
  • An employee being told that she was no longer going to be promoted due to news of her pregnancy.
  • An employee being selected for redundancy after telling them he had to self isolate.

Considering these cases perhaps this is a good time to remind employers of the protected characteristics.

1. Age

You cannot treat employees unfairly or unfavourably due to how old they are.

2. Disability

An employer has a duty of care toward disabled employees. You must make reasonable adjustments to remove barriers caused by a disability. There is also a special provision for disability under section 15 of the Equality Act which protects employees against discrimination for something arising as a consequence of their disability.

3. Gender reassignment

You must not discriminate against a member of staff because they are or you think they are transsexual.

4. Marriage and civil partnership

You must not treat an employee differently on account of them being married or in a civil partnership.

5. Pregnancy and maternity

This spans from the period of pregnancy through to birth and the period of maternity leave. Discrimination would involve treating a woman differently for being pregnant or on maternity leave.

6. Race

The legislation protects groups of employees defined by their race, colour or nationality. Discrimination occurs when they are treated differently because of this.

7. Religion and belief

Your employees have a legal protection from discrimination because of their religion or belief (or the lack thereof).

8. Sex

You must not treat an employee unfairly because they are a man or a woman. The law also does not allow positive discrimination in favour of either sex as it does in other instances such as disability.

9. Sexual orientation

The Act protects individuals from discrimination on the grounds of their sexual preferences.

If you need employment law advice or feel that you have been treated unfairly by your employer please contact Irina or Lewis on 01484 821 300 or email or

For more information about our employment law services visit for employers or for employees