Creating a fairer Britain
The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. The information on this page reflects changes to the law.
Equality law applies to any business that provides goods, facilities or services to members of the public.
This includes hairdressers, barbers, beauty salons, spas and manicure services among others. This ranges from sole traders who visit people in their own homes to large national chains.
It doesn’t matter whether the service is free, for example, a free haircut provided to people willing to be models, or whether it must be paid for – it will still be covered by equality law.
First, you can use the information earlier in this guide to make sure you know what equality law says businesses providing goods, facilities or services to the public must do.
Also look at:
Particular issues for these beauty-related businesses to think about are:
If a business normally supplies services only for people with a particular protected characteristic (such as gay men or lesbians), it can carry on providing the service the same way.
The business can refuse to provide the service to someone who does not have that characteristic if the business reasonably thinks it is impracticable for it to provide them with the service.
A hairdresser provides African Caribbean hairdressing services. Equality law does not force the hairdresser to provide European-style hairdressing services. However, if a white European woman asks for her hair to styled in a way that the hairdresser would provide to an African Caribbean woman, such as braiding, the hairdresser cannot refuse to to this unless the hairdresser reasonably believes it would be impracticable, for example, because of the length or nature of the person’s hair.
A business can also target their advertising or marketing at a group with particular protected characteristics, so long as they do not suggest they will not serve people with a particular characteristic (unless one of the exceptions applies). You can read more about advertising and marketing.
If a beauty-related business wants to provide separate services for men and women or a single-sex service for men or women only, then they need to be able to objectively justify providing their service in this way. They must meet other conditions as well, such as that a joint service would be less effective, or that men’s needs and women’s needs are different.
A beauty therapist who operates on her own and provides massages in clients’ own homes only provides this service to women. She believes the restriction is objectively justified and it also involves physical contact between the client and herself, which is something she has a reasonable objection to. It is likely that the provision of the service in this way will come within the exception.
You can read more about this in Separate services for men and women and single-sex services.
Beauty-related businesses need to consider what reasonable adjustments are needed to remove barriers to disabled people in using their services. This is not necessarily about physical features at their premises; they could adapt the way they provide their services.
A beauty salon usually carries out a facial for clients by asking them to lie on a high bed in a treatment room. A client who is a disabled person with a mobility impairment would not be able to get up onto the high bed. The salon decides that it will consider alternative ways of carrying out its services as a reasonable adjustment, such as carrying out the facial for a client sitting in a chair or lying on a lower couch if this is available. It advertises on its marketing material that it will make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, showing that it has thought in advance about the need for reasonable adjustments, rather than waiting for an individual client to ask to access the service.
You can read more about reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people.
Businesses must also avoid discriminating against transsexual people in accessing their services or using their facilities.
Transsexual people should be treated as belonging to the sex in which they present (as opposed to the physical sex they were born with) unless the business can objectively justify treating them differently. Where a transsexual person is visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from someone of their preferred gender, they should normally be treated according to their acquired gender unless there are strong reasons not to do so. Businesses and their staff should take care to avoid a decision based on ignorance or prejudice, as this may lead to unlawful discrimination.
Where someone has a gender recognition certificate they should be treated in their acquired gender for all purposes.
A spa refuses to allow disabled people who are receiving chemotherapy for cancer to have aromatherapy massages. This is because the spa owner understands there is uncertainty about the interaction of aromatherapy oils and the drugs used in chemotherapy. A disabled person who is affected by the refusal says this is indirect discrimination because it stops her and other disabled people in the same position receiving the service. Provided the spa owner can objectively justify the refusal, this will not be unlawful discrimination because of disability. However, a reasonable adjustment might be to offer a similar massage using unscented oil instead.
A beauty salon states that some of its treatments are unsuitable for pregnant women and people with high blood pressure or heart conditions. Provided it reasonably believes that providing these treatments would create a risk to a pregnant woman’s health and safety, the refusal would probably come within this exception.