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The Equality Act 2010 – what employers need to know

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

equalityact2010The Equality Act 2010 (the Equality Act) is the law that bans the unfair treatment of employees (i.e. on the grounds of age, disability, race, sex, etc.) and helps achieve equal opportunities in the workplace and in wider society. Managers/employers would be well advised to familiarise themselves with the legislation to ensure that they are meeting their legislative requirements.

Four important areas covered by the act are discussed below:

What is a disability?

There have been a number of changes to the law since the Equality Act came into force in October 2010 and being clear on disability legislation is crucial to ensure that organisations are not breaching the regulations. For example, would you know which employee health conditions are, and are not, defined as a disability? Would you know what to do if an employee claimed to have a disability? Are you aware how long a condition must last in order to be considered a disability?

Disability discrimination

Employers who treat a person less favourably because of a physical or mental health condition are directly discriminating against them and are acting unlawfully. Information about which conditions are protected by law is laid out in the Equality Act. The legislation also protects the rights of people caring for disabled people, which means that applicants for a job cannot be rejected because of their carer responsibilities.

What if staff performance suffers due to a disability?

The Equality Act offers guidelines for employers/managers on dealing with a drop in an employee’s performance (e.g. poor time-keeping, excessive sickness absence, anti-social behaviour) due to a disability. It’s important for employers to know how to broach the subject professionally and sensitively with the employee for the sake of business performance, and on remaining compliant with the Equality Act legislation.

Can employers ask about the health of a potential employee?

During the interview process, health-related questions may only be put to the interviewee in order to:

  • decide whether any reasonable adjustments are required during the selection process;
  • decide whether an applicant can carry out a function that is essential (‘intrinsic’) to the job (e.g. good eyesight and physical fitness for somebody hoping for employment in the emergency services);
  • monitor diversity among people making applications for jobs;
  • take positive action to assist disabled people.

Then, once a job offer has been made, employers can check whether the applicant is fit to do the job and make adjustments to the role or work environment (where needed) to ensure that the new employee can carry out the role. Whilst employers can lawfully withdraw the offer at this stage if it a transpires that the person is unable to carry out the role, advice should be sought before doing so.

Feel you need more information? The Fit for Work website offers a wealth of information about health and work, and the interplay between the two.


  1. Anne

    I now realise that my performance at work has been affected due to the stress of being a carer when I’m not at work, could this be covered under the ‘association’ part of the act?

    My team leader was initially very supportive, but then it suddenly stopped. She still allowed me to take off when I needed to, but recently when my team leader spoke to me about my performance I mentioned the pressure that I was under outside of work and she ignored it, which caused me to clam up and not mention it since..

    I have been a carer for the last 10 years, but for the last five years my father’s health has got worse – cognitive impairment,and COPD. Hospital admissions so far over the last two years amount to 10 due to chest infections and delirium. I went part time seven years ago to juggle work and my father, which was fine at first but now an infection happens any day of the week.
    I didn’t know how much pressure I was under until I went to see my Doctor recently, who signed me off with stress. I have been working for the company 20 years and in my present role for the last 10 years without incident. My father has carers coming in three times a day to check he is not confused, give medication, make meals etc, other than that, I am his sole carer.

    Any advice would be so be appreciated..

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi Anne,
      Acas should be able to give you further information on the meaning of “association” in relation to the Equality Act 2010 and how this applies to you as an employee. In general, direct discrimination by association means treating someone less favourably than another person because they are associated with a person who has a protected characteristic e.g. refusing to offer you a job because of your caring responsibilities.
      The law also protects you from harassment because you’re looking after an elderly or disabled person. As a carer, you have the right to ask for flexible working hours under different legislation so that you can fit in your caring as well as time off in emergencies if the person you care for falls ill, has an accident or is without care unexpectedly. You could speak to your manager again about how you’re feeling. Employers have a duty under health and safety law to assess and take measures to control risks from work-related stress.
      You could ask be referred to occupational health if this is available to you, they could make recommendations to support you in-work. Current medical evidence suggests that being a carer can impact on both mental and physical health and they could also discuss this with your manager and how it may impact on your abilities to perform your work.
      If you feel you are being harassed or victimised because you are a carer then you may wish to discuss this with a union representative, if you have one. Should you wish to follow polices and procedures and put in a grievance, again consider speaking to Acas, they can advise on what employers need to do in terms of complying with employment legislation. The Acas helpline is 0300 123 1100 (8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-1pm Saturday).
      The Fit for Work team

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