9 Protected Characteristics

Under the Equality Act 2010 the nine protected characteristics are as follows. Click the headings below for further information.

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations came into force in October 2006 and they make it unlawful to discriminate against workers, employees, job seekers and trainees (including students) because of their age. The legislation covers both younger and older individuals and follows the existing framework for anti-discrimination legislation.

Ageism is deeply entrenched in society and the workplace. Valuing people of all ages within the workforce and regarding them as a sustainable rather than a disposable resource is essential for our future prosperity.
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Disability is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. We have a responsibility to weave equality for all into our culture in practical and demonstrable ways. This means including disabled people and disability equality into everything we do from the outset.
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Disability definitions

A person is a disabled person (someone who has the protected characteristic of disability) if they have a physical and/or mental impairment which has what the law calls 'a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'.
There is no need for a person to have a medically diagnosed cause for their impairment; what matters is the effect of the impairment not the cause.

In relation to physical impairment:

  1. conditions that affect the body such as arthritis, hearing or sight impairment (unless this is correctable by glasses or contact lenses), diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, conditions such as HIV infection, cancer and multiple sclerosis, as well as loss of limbs or the use of limbs are covered
  2. HIV infection, cancer and multiple sclerosis are covered from the point of diagnosis
  3. severe disfigurement (such as scarring) is covered even if it has no physical impact on the person with the disfigurement, provided the long-term requirement is met (see below)
  4. people who are registered as blind or partially sighted, or who are certified as being blind or partially sighted by a consultant ophthalmologist, are automatically treated as disabled under the Act.
  5. mental impairment includes conditions such as dyslexia and autism as well as learning disabilities such as Down's Syndrome and mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia.

The other tests to apply to decide if someone has the protected characteristic of disability are:

  1. the length the effect of the condition has lasted or will continue: it must be long term. 'Long term' means that an impairment is likely to last for the rest of the person's life, or has lasted at least 12 months, or where the total period for which it lasts is likely to be at least 12 months. If the person no longer has the condition but it is likely to recur, or if the person no longer has the condition, they will be considered to be a disabled person.
  2. whether the effect of the impairment is to make it more difficult and/or time-consuming for a person to carry out an activity compared to someone who does not have the impairment, and this causes more than minor or trivial inconvenience; if the activities that are made more difficult are 'normal day-to-day activities' at work or at home
  3. whether the condition has this impact without taking into account the effect of any medication the person is taking, or any aids, assistance or adaptations they have (like a wheelchair, walking stick, assistance dog or special software on their computer). The exception to this is the wearing of glasses or contact lenses where it is the effect while the person is wearing the glasses or contact lenses, which is taken into account.

For example:

Someone who has ADHD might be considered to have a disability even if their medication controls their condition so well that they rarely experience any symptoms, if without the medication the ADHD would have long-term adverse effects.

Progressive conditions and those with fluctuating or recurring effects are included, such as depression, provided they meet the test of having a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The University's guidance to support both staff and students is being revised at the current time to take account of sector developments and in the meantime please contact the EDI Manager if any cases of individuals transitioning are drawn to any member of staff's attention.

Useful links:

  • Equality and Human Rights Commission - Transgender additional resources
  • Equality Challenge Unit (ECU)  - Experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans staff and students in higher education: research report 2009
  • Gendered Intelligence - Support for young trans people, education and anti-bullying.
  • UK Trans Info
  • Mermaids - Support for trans children and their families
  • Trans*formation - A networking and advocacy group for professionals who identify as Trans* and their friends and supporters.
  • Stonewall guidance - First steps to trans inclusion, Communicating commitment to trans inclusion, Creating a transitioning at work policy, Trans inclusive policies and benefits,  Getting it right with your trans service users and customers and engaging all staff in trans inclusion.

Under the Equality Act 2010 'marriage and civil partnership' has now been defined as a protected characteristic upon which discrimination is unlawful. The Equality and Human Rights Commission have published guidance on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.

The Equality Act 2010 introduces new protection from discrimination for students during pregnancy and maternity, by extending the protection that exists for women in employment to higher education.


The Equality Challenge Unit has produced guidance on meeting new legal requirements to support students during pregnancy and maternity - Student pregnancy and maternity: implications for higher education institutions. The guidance outlines how institutions can ensure students aren't discriminated against on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity. It is intended to help institutions meet the requirements laid out in the Equality Act.

Areas covered by the guidance include:

  • Legal protection for students during pregnancy and maternity
  • Implications for policy and practice
  • Maternity related absence, leave and pay
  • Sources of financial support for students
  • Impact of maternity-related absence on funding allocations
  • Assessments and examinations
  • Breastfeeding and facilities
  • Student accommodation
  • Students studying abroad and international students


The National Childbirth Trust produces useful 'returning to work' guides for parents and employers.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has loads of useful information for pregnant women - Power to the Bump

Under the Equality Act 2010 'race' is now defined as a protected characteristic.

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The Network for Black Professionals (NBP)have a student and graduate membership scheme. The NBP is a social justice, not for profit organisation committed to supporting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students and professionals to achieve their full career and civic potential and is working in partnership with the NUS Black Students' Campaign. Links to sector guidance publications will be posted here in due course.

Buckinghamshire New University has a duty of care to its diverse body of students and employees. Although a secular organisation, the University recognises and affirms the value of faith in relation to many of its students' university experience and in order to prepare them for the challenges of living and working in a multi-cultural society.

The Multi-faith Chaplaincy (MFC), which has been operational since 1 February 2011, has been set up to offer care and support for all students and employees, often at times of personal distress, loneliness, difficulties, bereavement and/or spiritual need, when they are most vulnerable, and to foster better inter-faith co-operation and understanding.

Bucks has made a Multi-faith space (The Sanctuary) available on both campuses though in some cases individuals' requirements will be met by facilities in the neighbourhood.

Good inter-faith relations are an important part of good relations on campus. The Inter Faith Network for the UK, which works towards the promotion of good relations between people of different faiths, has produced a useful code to encourage ongoing dialogue between different faith communities. Building Good Relations with People of Different Faiths and Beliefs provides useful guidance on appropriate ways of maintaining inter-faith dialogue within an environment of respect and courtesy.
Religious holy days are based on different calendars, including the lunar calendar, which is determined by phases of the moon. They can fall within a range of days, the exact date not being determined until very close to the time. Where these dates fall within term times, there may be a conflict between observing the holy day and meeting academic requirements.

Employees who wish to observe days of particular religious significance will have annual leave requests for those days considered sympathetically and as a priority, providing these days are requested at the beginning of the annual leave year, or when timetables are being drawn up for the forthcoming year, or when they first start work at the University.

The University recognises the importance of providing choices of food and drink to enable students and staff to follow faith based dietary practice aims to respond positively to any request for food that meets employees' and students' religious dietary requirements in consultation with the relevant religious groups and the Catering Manager. Wherever practicable it will seek to provide appropriate food in its outlets according to demand.

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The current legal position requires public sector organisations to promote equality between women and men and to seek to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment.
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Buckinghamshire New University values all its employees and students equally, regardless of their sexual orientation. The University aims to create an environment in which all employees and students, whatever their sexuality, feel equally welcome and valued, and in which homophobic behaviour is not tolerated.

Homophobic abuse, harassment or bullying (such as name calling/ derogatory jokes, unacceptable or unwanted behaviour, intrusive questions) are serious disciplinary offences and will be dealt with under the relevant disciplinary procedures.

Homophobic propaganda, in the forms of written materials, graffiti, songs or speeches, will not be tolerated. The University undertakes to remove any such propaganda whenever it appears on the premises and to take action against those responsible where they can be clearly identified.

The University will provide a supportive environment for staff and students who wish it to be known that they are Lesbian, Gay, or Bi-sexual (LGB). However, it is the right of the individuals to choose whether they wish to be open about their sexuality in the University. To "out" someone without their permission is a form of harassment, and will be treated as such.

Coming out means sharing with someone that you are lesbian, gay or bi-sexual. People come out in all different situations and for all different reasons and Stonewall has a useful guide –Coming Out!- Answers to some of the questions you may have which is aimed at young people. The  RUComingOut website has an archive of coming out stories from people of all ages and backgrounds, as well as tips about coming out and interviews with inspiring lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

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