Protected characteristics

The Equality Act 2010 legislation is based on protecting people from discrimination because of who they are. 

The legislation identifies 9 characteristics of people, which have historically been the reason for discrimination and provides them with protection from discrimination in a variety of ways. 

The protected characteristics are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation


A person belonging to a particular age (for example 32-year-olds) or range of ages (for example 18 to 30-year-olds).


A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Gender reassignment

Another way of describing a person’s transition. To have gender reassignment usually means to undergo some sort of medical intervention. It can also mean:

  • changing names
  • pronouns
  • dressing differently
  • living in their self-identified gender

Marriage and civil partnership

Marriage is a union between a man and a woman or between a same-sex couple.

Same-sex couples can also have their relationships legally recognised as 'civil partnerships'. Civil partners must not be treated less favourably than married couples (except where permitted by the Equality Act).

Pregnancy and maternity

Pregnancy is the condition of being pregnant or expecting a baby. Maternity refers to the period after the birth, and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context. In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, and this includes treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.


Race refers to a group of people defined by their race, colour, and nationality (including citizenship) ethnic or national origins.

Religion and belief

Religion refers to any religion, including a lack of religion. Belief refers to any religious or philosophical belief and includes a lack of belief. Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.


This characteristic protects both men and woman.

Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation is a person's sexual attraction; either towards:

  • their own sex
  • the opposite sex
  • both sexes