In the world of diversity and inclusion, Protected Characteristics are talked about and used a lot, but if you don’t operate in this space then you’re probably wondering what they are and why they matter. If so then we've compiled this short guide to bring you up to speed and help you understand why Protected Characteristics matter.
But before I do so, it’s important to know that the information below is for guidance only and should not be taken as legal advice. Always consult a fully qualified legal practitioner before making decisions or taking actions.
In a nutshell, Protected Characteristics are, as the name suggests, characteristics that define groups of people protected by law against discrimination at work or in the wider society under the Equality Act 2010.
For example, if you employ people then you cannot (by law) treat someone less favourably because of their Protected Characteristic.
There are currently nine protected characteristics which underpin what UK law states you cannot be discriminated against. These are:
- gender reassignment (being or becoming a transexual person)
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
- religion or belief (or lack of religion/belief)
- sexual orientation
The Equalities Act 2010 provides protection from discrimination:
- at work
- in education
- as a consumer
- when using public services
- when buying or renting property
- as a member or guest of a private club or an association
In addition to the protection that those with Protected Characteristics receive, people are also protected from discrimination if:
- they are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic, eg a family member or friend
- they have complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim
The law states that you must not treat a person worse because of one or more of their protected characteristics. This is what is called direct discrimination.
When reading about Protected Characteristics you might also have come across the term ‘positive action’. Positive action is defined as the voluntary actions people take to help people with protected characteristics.
Taking 'positive action' is legal if it is deemed that the people with a protected characteristic:
- have particular needs
- are at a disadvantage
- are under-represented in an activity or type of work