Protected Characteristics: What are they?

Within this section you will learn what protected characteristics are and the law surrounding them called the Equality Act 2010.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1 October 2010, and it applies to Scotland, England and Wales. It brings together over 116 separate pieces of legislation into one single Act so that it is easier to use. It sets out the personal characteristics that are protected by the law and the behaviour that is unlawful. This means that all are protected underneath it, for example, staff, volunteers, beneficiaries, trustees, and supporters. Simplifying legislation and harmonising protection for all of the characteristics covered will help Britain become a fairer society, improve public services, and help business perform well. 

The nine main pieces of legislation that have merged are:

  • the Equal Pay Act 1970
  • the Sex Discrimination Act 1975
  • the Race Relations Act 1976
  • the Disability Discrimination Act 1995
  • the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003
  • the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003
  • the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006
  • the Equality Act 2006, Part 2
  • the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007

There are further elements in the Act that did not come into force in October 2010, but may do in the future.

Information on all protected characteristics

The Equality Act 2010 protects us all, this includes staff, volunteers, beneficiaries, trustees, and supporters, by making it against the law to discriminate against or harass someone because of a protected characteristic. Everyone has more than one protected characteristic, however some will face discrimination, harassment, bullying or victimisation based on a sub-group within a protected characteristic.

 There are nine protected characteristics, which are:

The individual links above relating to each protected characteristic explains what is meant by each characteristic and how discrimination can apply in terms of direct and indirect discrimination, and harassment and victimisation.

Please bear in mind of other vulnerable groups that are not listed as protected characteristics. For example, looked after children, adults from care, those who are carers (e.g., disabled child, elderly parent, sibling, family members etc.), socioeconomic status, those who are gender fluid, paternity leave, and miscarriage. We advise to think about the aforementioned in your policies and working environments to create equal opportunities.


Intersectionality was coined by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the unique experiences of Black women (i.e., those who have more than one protected characteristic who have faced or may face oppression).

Although we all have more than one protected characteristic, some may have two or more protected characteristics that are interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. For example, a female person of colour who is disabled. To learn more about this topic and what we can do as organisations to create inclusive working cultures and opportunities, please see EDI Fortnight 2023: Intersectionality by CEMVO Scotland.

Equality Policy Template

Here is an example of guidance and commitment statements from RSPB that may be of use when creating your equality policy. The ARC-Trust have also produced an equality policy that may be of use, too.

ACAS have also produced an Equality Policy template that we recommend using alongside our own recommendations specified in How to Support Staff and Volunteers.


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