What are protected characteristics? 

The Employment Equality Acts and Equal Status Acts of Ireland and the EU are laws designed to provide protection from discrimination. 

Similarly, the Equality Act 2010 is a law in the United Kingdom that prohibits discrimination against individuals based on any of the above-mentioned protected characteristics. The act replaced previous anti-discrimination laws and provides a legal framework to protect individuals from unfair treatment and promote equality and diversity.  

Both acts include protected characteristics. 


The protected characteristics in the UK are: 

1. Age 

2. Disability 

3. Gender reassignment 

4. Marriage and civil partnership 

5. Pregnancy and maternity 

6. Race

7. Religion or belief

8. Sex

9. Sexual orientation


The Protected characteristics in Ireland are:

1. Gender

2. Civil Status 

3. Family Status

4. Sexual Orientation 

5. Disability 

6. Age 

7. Race

8. Religion 

9. Membership of the Traveller community 


While there are similarities in the equality laws between the UK and Ireland, there are also some differences. 
In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination based on the following protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. The Act applies to employment, education, and the provision of goods and services. 
In Ireland, equality law is mainly governed by the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 and the Equal Status Acts 2000-2018. These Acts also prohibit discrimination on various grounds, including gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, age, race, religion, and disability. However, the categorization and scope of protected characteristics differ slightly between the UK and Ireland. 
Another difference in the equality laws of the two countries is that in Ireland, there is a separate Equality Tribunal that investigates and adjudicates on complaints of discrimination, while in the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has powers to enforce equality legislation, undertake research, and provide advice and guidance. 
While the specific legal framework and enforcement agencies differ, the underlying goal of both the UK and Ireland's equality legislation is to promote and protect equal opportunities and eliminate discrimination, ensuring fair and equal treatment for all. 


Why are Protected Characteristics important for inclusion and diversity? 

Protected characteristics are important for inclusion and diversity because they are the specific characteristics that are protected by anti-discrimination legislation. These characteristics include age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and membership of the Traveller community depending on geography. These characteristics are important because they identify groups of people who have historically faced discrimination, disadvantage, and inequality. 


What are examples of protected characteristics in the workplace? 

Examples of protected characteristics in the workplace include: 
1. Age:

Employers cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants based on their age. 

2. Disability:

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities to ensure they can carry out their job duties.

3. Race:

Employers cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin.

4. Sex:

Employers cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants based on their gender or sexual orientation.

5. Religion or belief:

Employers cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants based on their religion or beliefs.

6. Gender reassignment:

Employers must treat employees who are undergoing gender reassignment equally and with respect.

7. Pregnancy and maternity:

Employers cannot discriminate against employees or job applicants based on their pregnancy or maternity leave.

By recognizing and protecting these characteristics, employers can foster a workplace culture that is more inclusive and supportive of diversity. This can lead to improved employee engagement and job satisfaction, better business decisions, and a stronger organizational reputation. 


Other Common Questions about Protected Characteristics 


How to reduce the risk of discrimination at work? 

Reducing discrimination at work requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on creating a culture of inclusion and diversity. Below are some steps that employers can take to reduce discrimination in the workplace: 
1. Develop and enforce anti-discrimination policies:

Employers should have formal anti-discrimination policies in place that outline the company's stance on diversity and inclusion. These policies should be clearly communicated to all employees and strictly enforced by management. 
2. Educate employees:

Employers should provide training and education to their employees on topics such as unconscious bias, diversity, and inclusion. This can help to raise awareness of discrimination and bias and encourage employees to be more mindful of their behaviour. 
3. Foster a culture of inclusion:

Employers can foster a culture of inclusion by promoting unity and respect across their workforce. For example, employers can hold diversity events or celebrations, create employee resource groups, or promote diverse leadership. 
4. Evaluate recruitment and promotion methods:

Employers should review their recruitment and promotion methods to ensure that they are transparent and based on merit. This can help to ensure that a diverse pool of candidates has an equal opportunity to succeed. 
5. Provide support:

Employers should provide support to employees who experience discrimination or who require accommodations. This can include providing trained support staff or counsellors and offering access to reasonable accommodations. 
6. Monitor workplace demographics:

Employers should regularly review and monitor the demographic makeup of their workforce. This can help to identify any areas of under-representation or issues related to workplace diversity. 
Reducing discrimination at work requires a sustained effort and commitment from both employers and employees. By taking proactive steps to promote diversity and eliminate discrimination, employers can create a more inclusive and supportive work environment for all employees. 


How many protected characteristics are there?  

There are nine protected characteristics. 


Is positive discrimination legal in employment? 

Positive discrimination, also known as affirmative action, is generally not legal in employment in the UK and Ireland. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics such as age, gender, disability, race, or sexual orientation. This means that employers cannot preferentially hire or promote someone based solely on their protected characteristics, even if the goal is to create a more diverse workforce or address historical imbalances. 


Is discrimination in the workplace ever lawful? 

Discrimination in the workplace is rarely lawful. There are some exceptions, such as if there is a genuine occupational requirement that cannot be met by someone with a particular protected characteristic. For example, if a role requires a particular level of physical strength, it may be lawful to require a certain level of fitness, which may disproportionately exclude some people with disabilities. However, this exception is very narrowly defined, and employers must be able to demonstrate that the requirement is essential to the job in question. 
In addition, positive action is lawful in some circumstances. This is where an employer can take action to address under-representation of certain protected groups, but this must be proportionate and aimed at addressing the under-representation, rather than excluding or disadvantaging any particular group of people. 



 It should be noted that this article does not constitute legal advice, and employers should work with their legal teams to ensure compliance. It should also be noted that laws and regulations are subject to change – best practices can include an annual refresher course, review, or advisory call. 

Ultimately, these laws are in place to prevent and protect people from discrimination and marginalization; not to create division or challenges. Approaching them with these intentions can go a long way in avoiding discord.