The Protected Characteristics: Common questions

The Protected Characteristics: Common questions

Posted by Jan Lawrence


As training providers of Equality, Diversity and Unconscious Bias courses, we find that many participants express a feeling of nervousness when the topic of equality is raised and often this stems from a lack of knowledge, experience and previous discussion within this area.  We thought it might therefore be helpful to provide answers to three of the most common questions asked about the protected characteristics.

What is the definition of a protected characteristic?

A protected characteristic refers to a group who is protected in the Equality Act 2010.  However, the actual definition of many of the protected characteristics will vary from case to case and attention will be paid to the nature of the protected characteristic at each stage of the particular case.  The Act covers 9 protected characteristics which are – age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation.

What is meant by equal opportunity?

Historically different statutory bodies dealt with acts of discrimination in order to promote equality in the UK workplace.  Until 2007 these were the Equal Opportunities Commission who were established to tackle sex discrimination, Disability Rights Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality.

The 3 commissions merged in 2007 to become the Equality and Human Rights Commission.  Their primary aim “is to promote and protect everyone’s right to equal opportunities in the workplace as laid down in the Equality Act 2010“.

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the term equal opportunity “upholds the idea that all workers within an organisation should be entitled to and have access to all of the organisations facilities at every stage of employment, including the pre-employment phase.”

How many protected characteristics are covered in the employment act? 

Discrimination in the workplace as well as in wider society is covered by the Equality Act 2010 which, in one act, replaced previous anti-discrimination laws.  The Act also protects you from discrimination if:

  • you’re associated with someone who has a protected characteristic, eg a family member or friend
  • you’ve complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim

 Further information and guidance about the Act can be found on the Government website.

Examples of inequality in relation to the Protected Characteristics

You can find some examples of unlawful discrimination on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s website.
The Equality Advisory Service has a useful page on their website which provides explanations and examples in relation to the Protected Characteristics.

Please Note: The information in this website is for general guidance  and is not legal advice.

Equilibrium Associates Limited (In Equilibrium) will not accept liability for any loss, damage or inconvenience arising as a consequence of any use of or the inability to use any information on this website. We are not responsible for claims brought by third parties arising from your use of