The U.K. government is updating its Equality Act 2010, with changes set to be implemented in January 2024. Here’s what you need to know.

In November 2023, the government of the United Kingdom published draft amendments to the Equality Act 2010. Scheduled to go into effect on January 1st, 2024, the amendments are referred to as The Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) Regulations 2023.

We know what you want to know: what does it all mean, what’s changing, and how does it affect you? 

We have the answers to all that and more, so read on.

What is the U.K. Equality Act?

Let’s start at the beginning — what is even being amended? The U.K. Equality Act 2010 is a piece of law that provides legal protection from workplace discrimination for U.K. employees. Previously, those protections had been patchworked together from a series of three laws:

  • Sex Discrimination Act 1975
  • Race Relations Act 1976
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995

In 2010, the above trio was streamlined into one Act that provided a more comprehensive set of employment protections — the Equality Act 2010 — with the intention of making it easier to understand and shoring up some of the existing protections.

What’s changing about this regulation — and why?

Thirteen years after it was first introduced, the Equality Act 2010 is being amended to further bolster protections. But if all goes as planned, very little should actually change about an employee’s day-to-day.

That’s because the 2023 statutory instrument, as it’s called, is literally designed to create a smooth, uninterrupted transition between December 2023 and January 2024. That’s when the existing set of EU-derived protections expire, only to be replaced by domestic legislation. 

That’s right — this all comes down to Brexit. 

A quick reminder on the Brexit timeline

The referendum on whether the U.K. should depart the European Union was voted on in 2016, with a majority voting to leave. That decision was documented in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (EUWA), which is also known as the Great Repeal Act. 

Designed to begin the process of severing the links between EU law and U.K. citizens, EUWA also paved the way for the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023. Intended to provide “legal continuity and certainty,” the Act created a new category of domestic U.K. laws known as REUL — or, “retained EU law” — and lowered the barriers for lawmakers to retain or adapt relevant EU legislation. Stated another way, it allows authorities to more easily make changes to any laws accumulated during the U.K.’s 47-year EU membership. 

Cutting back in time to 2020, the U.K. formally departed the EU on January 31, 2020, entering a transitional period where some EU laws remained in effect. Under the dictates of REUL, all EU-derived legislation is set to expire at the end of 2023, which is where we find ourselves today. 

What laws are being incorporated?

With EU workplace legislation expiring at year’s end, U.K. lawmakers wanted to ensure that employees retained the same workplace protections they enjoyed while a part of the EU. In short — to maintain existing policy. The relevant EU laws transposed into domestic U.K. law include:

  • Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
  • Council Directive 2000/43/EC implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin (“the Race Directive”)
  • Council Directive 2000/78/EC establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation (“the Framework Directive”)
  • Council Directive 2004/113/EC implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services
  • Council Directive 2006/54/EC on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation (“the Recast Directive”)

What do these laws promise?

In plain speak, the 2023 U.K. Equality Act changes include:

  • Full workplace protections for people with disabilities — the change here is that disability is now understood to cover a person’s ability to participate in “day-to-day” workplace activities on an equal basis with other employees. 
  • Clarification that breastfeeding-related discrimination is, in fact, sex discrimination within the workplace — and that more favorable treatment on the grounds of maternity is permitted within the law.
  • Indirect discrimination — when a practice, criterion, or provision disadvantages a group with protected characteristics — can be claimed even by association. (Where an individual without the stated characteristic suffers alongside that group regardless.) 
  • The ‘single source’ test in equal pay claims was made official, allowing an employee to compare their salary to someone at a different workplace, as long as a single body is responsible for the terms and conditions of employment. 
  • Increased protections against recruitment discrimination even outside of an active recruitment process. (For example, if an employer made a statement about not wanting to recruit those with certain shared protected characteristics, even if this comment wasn’t made during a recruitment cycle or there’s no identifiable victim.)  
  • Protection against unfavorable treatment by those returning from maternity leave, where the treatment is connected with a pregnancy or pregnancy-related illness that occurred before their return. 
  • Pregnancy and maternity discrimination protections for mothers who don’t have a statutory right to maternity leave but can access similar rights under alternative occupational schemes. 

Will I be affected?

If you have employees in the U.K., you will be affected. But as we’ve discussed throughout this post, you shouldn’t experience any differences — that’s literally the point of the amendment. 

The Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) Regulations 2023 are intended to enshrine existing EU-derived protections that have stayed in place until now under the REUL Act, and are set to expire at midnight on December 31st, 2023. So counterintuitively, there would be changes without an amendment. But there shouldn’t be demonstrable changes with one.

If everything goes to plan, there should be no break in existing protections. U.K. employees should have the same rights and protections on January 1st, 2024 as they had on New Year’s Eve the night before — just safeguarded within the books of a different legislative body.

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