The Equality Act - what it means for you

smartly dressed older man

The Equality Act 2010 brought together existing regulations that already gave protection against ageism and other forms of discrimination, and extended them. 

Since October 2010 this has been the main law relating to age discrimination, protecting you against ageism in employment, education and training.

The law maintains your right not to be disadvantaged or treated badly at work because of your age. It also covers the way you are treated by further and higher education organisations such as universities, and by clubs, associations and trade bodies.

The Equality Act gives new protection to ensure older people get fair treatment when they are receiving goods and services, although this part of the Act will not be introduced until April 2012.

In addition to age, under the Equality Act people cannot be discriminated against as a result of any of the other ‘protected characteristics’. These are: disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

The Equality Act protects you from:


There are two types of discrimination which are outlawed by the Equality Act: direct discrimination and indirect discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination is when you’re treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic. For example, your employer says he/she will not promote you because you are 'too old'.
  • Indirect discrimination is when a person is disadvantaged by something such as criteria that excludes people with their ‘protected characteristic’. For example, if a job is advertised and the employer states they’re looking for ‘recent graduates’, this is likely to exclude most older people. However, there are cases when trade organisations can justify that an age limit is necessary for certain roles, although these are rare.


If you are subjected to unwanted behaviour that makes you feel intimidated, humiliated, or degraded, or that creates a hostile environment, on the grounds of your age or another protected characteristic, this is harassment. For example, if your colleagues at work repeatedly make jokes about your age, which you find offensive. This also applies if you’re offended by age-related comments made about someone you associate with, such as a partner.


This is when you are treated unfairly as a result of making a complaint about discrimination, or giving evidence when someone else makes a complaint. For example, if you are passed over for a promotion that you would otherwise have been given, after making a witness statement supporting a colleague’s complaint of age discrimination.

An employer may be able to justify discrimination, but they can never justify harassment or victimisation.

For information about what to do if you have a complaint about the way you are treated at work, see dealing with disputes at work.

From April 2012, older people will have more protection when they are receiving a product or service. A service provider must not discriminate against or victimise someone with a protected characteristic by terminating the service or by acting unfairly towards them. The details of this protection are currently being decided and will be available in 2012.

Since 1 October 2011, the default retirement age of 65 has been scrapped. Employers can no longer retire employees over the age of 65, unless they can provide clear justification for this. For more information about the default retirement age, see Default Retirement Age: frequently asked questions. If you have retired and your employer did not follow the right procedure, you can claim unfair dismissal – see dealing with disputes at work for more information.

The Public Sector Equality duty

The Equality Act extended the duty of public bodies (including local authorities) and private individuals carrying out public functions (including GPs), to ensure their decisions and policies are fair and equal. For the first time, the Public Sector Equality Duty covers older people. The duties they have include acting against discrimination, harassment and victimisation, and ensuring people with protected characteristics (including older people) have equal opportunities to others.

Personal office holders & business partners

Personal office holders are people appointed to carry out a function under the supervision of another person, such as company directors, trustees and members of the clergy. Find out what The Equality Act means to you if you are a personal office holder or business partner.

For further information

opens link in new window Download the factsheet Equality Act 2010: The Public Sector Equality Duty (PDF 204KB)


We are grateful for the generous support of Dr Naim Dangoor CBE
and The Exilarch's Foundation

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