The Equality Act of 2010 brings together a range of previous legislation on discrimination and makes it unlawful to discriminate against those with any of nine ‘protected characteristics’:
- gender / sex
- race / ethnicity
- sexuality / sexual orientation
- religion and belief (this includes atheism and agnosticism)
- marriage and civil partnership
- gender identity (e.g. transgender)
- pregnancy and maternity
A new public sector Equality Duty requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to:
- eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the act.
- advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.
- foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.
Disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. ‘Substantial’ is more than minor or trivial, whilst ‘long-term’ means 12 months or more.
See www.gov.uk (accessed 15/01/2015)
Guidance states that a severe disfigurement is to be treated as a disability – that is, as having a substantial adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. There is no need to demonstrate such an effect. Assessing severity will be mainly a matter of the degree of the disfigurement, although guidance suggests taking account of where the disfigurement in question is, giving the example of ‘the back as opposed to the face’. It would appear that many cases of facial palsy would qualify as a disability under this definition.
Under the Act employers have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled applicants and employees in order to avoid putting a disabled person at a disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person. In the case of facial palsy, such adjustments might include protective equipment for eyes. Equipment for dealing with other impairments associated directly or indirectly with facial palsy such as hearing loss is also widely available and would be considered a reasonable adjustment.
Discrimination by association or perception is also unlawful. That is, if someone is bullied because they are perceived to be gay, for example, they are protected even if they do not at that time or ever identify as gay. This also means that if a child is bullied because their sibling, friend or parent has severe facial palsy, they too are protected under the law.
Harassment or bullying is understood from the perspective of the person who is subjected to it – it is about how something is received, not about intention. A perpetrator cannot, therefore, defend themselves by saying that they meant no harm or were joking: they have to address how it was experienced by the person they bullied. If you are being bullied, you need to explain clearly that you experience particular behaviours as bullying to have them addressed.
Bullying in schools
In August 2013, the government published updated advice for schools on bullying – see www.education.gov.uk (accessed 15/01/2015).
This advice makes clear that schools are required to comply with the new Equality Duty. In addition, the new Ofsted framework which came into force in January 2012 includes ‘behaviour and safety’ as one of its key criteria for inspections. Schools should be able to demonstrate the impact of anti-bullying policies.
Last reviewed: 15-01-2015 || Next review due: 15-01-2017