Protected characteristics

Published: 6 July 2021

Last updated: 6 July 2021

What countries does this apply to?

  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales

It is against the law to discriminate against someone because of a protected characteristic. The nine protected characteristics are:

You are protected under the Equality Act 2010 from these types of discrimination.  


A person belonging to a particular age (for example 32 year olds) or range of ages (for example 18 to 30 year olds).

See our guidance on age discrimination.


A person has a disability if she or he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

See our guidance on disability discrimination.

Gender reassignment

Where a person undergoes, or proposes to undergo, a process for the purpose of reassigning their sex.

See our guidance on gender reassignment discrimination.

Marriage and civil partnership

Marriage is a union between a man and a woman or between a same-sex couple.

Same-sex couples can also have their relationships legally recognised as 'civil partnerships'. Civil partners must not be treated less favourably than married couples (except where permitted by the Equality Act).

See our guidance on marriage and civil partnership discrimination.

Pregnancy and maternity

Pregnancy is the condition of being pregnant or expecting a baby. Maternity refers to the period after the birth, and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context. In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, and this includes treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.

See our guidance on pregnancy and maternity discrimination


A race is a group of people defined by their colour, nationality (including citizenship) ethnicity or national origins. A racial group can be made up of more than one distinct racial group, such as Black British.

See our advice and guidance on race discrimination.

Religion or belief

Religion refers to any religion, including a lack of religion. Belief refers to any religious or philosophical belief and includes a lack of belief. Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.

See our guidance on religion or belief discrimination.


A man or a woman.

See our guidance on sex discrimination

Sexual orientation

Whether a person's sexual attraction is towards their own sex, the opposite sex or to both sexes.

See our advice and guidance on sexual orientation discrimination.

Equality Act

Find out more about the Equality Act 2010, which provides the legal framework to tackle disadvantage and discrimination.

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Advice and support

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS).

The EASS is an independent advice service, not operated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Phone: 0808 800 0082

Or email using the contact form on the EASS website.
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Call the EASS on:

0808 800 0082