Equality and Diversity legislation - the basics

Updated on 17 December 2020

Basic information regarding the Equality Acts and the responsibilities of the University as a public body in Scotland

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The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) and the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012 are the principle pieces of anti-discrimination law that are relevant to the University and its work in Equality and Diversity.

This briefing provides you with the basic information regarding these and the responsibilities of the University as a public body in Scotland.

UK wide legislation

The Equality Act 2010

The Act brought together numerous pieces of anti-discrimination legislation under one Act. This was in part for simplicity and in recognition that some pieces of legislation were more powerful than others and yet the experience of discrimination had similar impacts on individuals, whether it was in relation to age, sex, sexual orientation or any of the other characteristic.

The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate, harass or victimise or carry out any other unlawful act because of a protected characteristic. It applies in the provision of goods and services, employment and education.

Discrimination in this context means to treat someone differently and this can be direct or indirect discrimination.

A treats B differently than he would treat others because of a protected characteristic is an example of direct discrimination.

Indirect discrimination is where a policy, provision or criterion, which on the surface seems to treat everyone equally, has an indirect consequence for someone because of a protected characteristic. It may not be deliberate, however the consequence is the same. An example would be where an employer introduces a work pattern that requires everyone to work until 6.30 each evening. This would have an indirect disproportionate effect on women, who remain the principal carers for children and older family.

Harassment is any unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual. It should be related to a relevant protected characteristic and need not be directed at any one individual. So the culture in a workplace can create that environment where people feel uncomfortable or intimidated, even though it may not intend to cause discomfort.

Victimisation is very specific and is about protecting someone who has either made a complaint or has provided support to someone making a complaint. So A complains about B and there is an investigation, for which C provides evidence in favour of A. After the complaint becomes known, B, who is a manager, threatens to curtail A and C’s career development opportunities. An individual could take two cases to a tribunal, one for the primary complaint and the second for victimisation following the initial complaint.

Discrimination by Association is where someone is being discriminated because of their association with someone with the relevant protected characteristic, even though they themselves do not have that protected characteristic. It is the behaviour that is unlawful, irrespective of who it is directed at.

Discrimination by Assumption is where someone is discriminated against because they are assumed to have a protected characteristic, even where they do not. Again it is the behaviour that is unlawful, irrespective of who it is directed at.

The Protected Characteristics

There are nine protected characteristics under the Act:

  • Age -protects all age groups. Younger people may feel excluded from the job market because jobs always ask for experience, whilst older people may be viewed by an employer as being less able to keep up with technology.
  • Disability – any physical, mental or sensory impairment that has a significant and long term effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal, day to day activities. Long term is considered something which lasts a year or more while normal activity can be related to requirements of a job.
  • Gender reassignment – where someone adopts the gender opposite to that which they were assigned at birth. There is no requirement for an individual to have undergone medical or surgical intervention.
  • Marriage and civil partnership – this usually applies to benefits such as pension rights, inheritance and insurance. The protection does not extend to those who cohabit.
  • Maternity and pregnancy – provides protection to women during pregnancy, and whilst on maternity leave. Development and progression opportunities should be made available to women during pregnancy and any maternity leave.
  • Race –covers nationality, national identity, ethnicity, skin colour and caste. Ethnicity is self-defined and shouldn’t be assumed.
  • Religion or belief – covers all the accepted faiths and includes non-belief (atheism and agnosticism). Belief refers to a philosophical belief system that influences how someone lives their life.
  • Sex – refers to men and women.
  • Sexual orientation – covers people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual.

Public bodies and the Act (Including further education bodies) - The General Duty

In order to promote and drive forward equality of opportunity for people, the Act introduces particular requirements for public bodies.

The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)  also known as the General Duty  is a duty requiring public bodies and others carrying out public functions to have due regard to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act 2010
  • 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 those who do not

The Act and the General Duty apply across the UK.

Scotland only legislation

The Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012

The Act provides for the devolved parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to develop their own legislation to monitor how bodies were meeting the PSED. This legislation is known as the Specific Duties and they differ in each of the four countries in the UK.

In Scotland the Specific Duties require public bodies to:

  • report on progress on mainstreaming equality (every two years)
  • to publish equality outcomes and report on progress (Published every four years and progress report every two years)
  • to assess and review policies and practices (Equality Impact Assessment)
  • gather and use employee information
  • to publish pay gap information on gender, race, and disability (including occupational segregation)
  • to publish an equal pay statement with reference to gender, race, and disability
  • consider award criteria and condition in relation to public procurement
  • to publish in a manner that is accessible
  • to consider other matters

The Specific Duties are a statutory requirement and failure to meet these can result in prosecution for the organisation.

University of Dundee Equality Outcomes

In relation to the Equality Outcomes, the University has four Outcomes and these are:

  1. to develop and promote a positive, safe and inclusive environment within the University culture
  2. to improve student experience through promoting inclusive and supportive teaching and learning environment
  3. to widen collection and analysis of robust and reliable data
  4. to improve Staff experience through inclusive and supportive environment

These outcomes are supported by an action plan which sets out activities to address the needs of all of the protected groups.


Joan Robertson

Equality and Diversity Officer

+44 (0)1382 384103