The Protected Characteristics

A reminder..

We often come across training and guidance that makes reference to the protected characteristics, and it’s really important that this is presented correctly.

The following is a list of all the characteristics defined as ‘protected characteristics’ by the Equality Act 2010:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex (being male or female)
  • sexual orientation (being attracted to people of the opposite sex, the same sex or both)

It is against the law to discriminate against someone in the workplace because of a protected characteristic, so it is very important to be clear as to which characteristics are protected and to understand what they cover.

All of us will be protected by at least four, maybe more.

Did you know that the protected characteristic of ‘religion or belief’ also covers lack of belief (e.g. our colleagues who are Humanist or atheist)? For example, you cannot be compelled to demonstrate your adherence or support for a belief system you do not share.

Religion or belief also not only covers religious beliefs (such as those held by our colleagues who are Christian, Muslim, or another faith), it also covers philosophical and non-religious ethical positions (such as following a vegan diet and lifestyle, or being gender critical).

Religion or belief may also cover beliefs about gender and gender identity.

In the Equality Act, 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. This may also cover some issues relating to gender or gender identity. It is described in more detail on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.

However, we have also seen internal training which incorrectly states the protected characteristics also include one or more of the following:

  • gender
  • gender expression
  • gender identity

None of these are listed as protected characteristics, which are the nine listed at the start of this post.

If you come across any training or advice which gets this wrong, please do let us know!

Cover image: Creative Commons