1. Pregnant women: pregnancy becomes a protected characteristic in its own right (similar to age, disability etc) instead of being lumped in with sex. If the Bill is passed, it will be directly discriminatory to treat a woman unfavourably because of her pregnancy, pregnancy-related illness or absence on maternity leave during the "protected period". This period starts when the pregnancy begins and ends either when she returns to work at the end of her maternity leave period or two weeks after giving birth.

During the protected period, pregnancy and maternity discrimination would no longer be treated as indirect sex discrimination so men who receive less favourable treatment than a woman who receives special treatment in connection with her pregnancy or childbirth will not be able to bring a discrimination claim.

This provision reflects the amendments set out in the Sex Discrimination Act (Amendment Regulations) 2008, although the Bill requires pregnant women and women on maternity leave who are discriminated against to show that they have been treated less favourably "than is reasonable".

2. Maternity leave: the Bill also introduces a maternity equality clause dealing with the pay that women receive on maternity leave and a maternity equality rule for occupational pension schemes. These provisions are separate and distinct from the right not to be discriminated against because of pregnancy or maternity, so complaints regarding discriminatory contractual provisions would be dealt with under these clauses, rather than as a form of pregnancy, maternity or gender discrimination.

3. ’Dual discrimination’: this is a new clause that was inserted to allow anyone directly discriminated against because of a combination of two protected characteristics to make one claim. So, for example, a black woman discriminated against because her employer had a stereotyped attitude towards black women as opposed to black men or white women may bring a single claim for combined race and sex discrimination.

The Equality Bill will now go to the report stage when MPs get the chance to debate and propose amendments. Most of the Bill should come into force by the autumn.

as a matter of fact...

The Equality Bill has two main purposes to harmonise discrimination law, and to strengthen the law to support progress on equality.