The Equalities Act of 2010 (applicable in England, Scotland and Wales) says at Section 10 (in part):

Belief means any religious or philosophical belief; and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.

It goes on to describe, in Section 26, harassment which includes the following:

A person (A) harasses another (B) - if A engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant characteristic, and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating B’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.

This seems quite broad. Would a belief that all female short lists are ethical be considered a belief in terms of this act? Or indeed a belief such as “the sky is not blue”? Or indeed any idea subscribed to.

If I was to argue with a coworker that the sky is not red but blue, and he takes offense, am I breaking the law?

1 Answer 1


The key limiting factors are the language:

and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating B’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.

And, also, the context of the term "belief" in the statute in conjunction with religion which is defined in the same section, which suggests that in this context it is intended to be understood as the kind of belief that constitutes a core worldview for a person, even if it is secular (e.g. Confucianism or a Stoic philosophy of life), rather than isolated particular ideas about factual things.

There is also considerable room for judicial interpretation over whether, for example "effect of" is limited to an "effect" reasonably derived from the "conduct" in question.

Still, in general, the U.K., has higher standards mandating civility in dealings with others than the U.S., and there is lots of conduct barred by the Equality Act of 2010 which would not be barred under U.S. law, for example.

The closest analog in U.S. law is really the tort of "outrageous conduct" also sometimes known as "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

  • Thank you. “...and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating...”. By “or effect” this is unusually broad because a person can never be sure of effect. If I kill a someone, the purpose of my conduct matters (eg administering pain relief, that unintentionally killed). But in this law, if someone accidentally creates an offensive environment, they are breaking the law? Also, a great deal can be argued is a core worldview. For example: a position on all-female short lists can be said to be a core worldview? By covering so many modes of interaction, is this law in danger of overreach?
    – 52d6c6af
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 7:43
  • In theory, perhaps, but in practice, in a society like that of the U.K., people don't accidentally act in ways that violate someone's dignity or create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. It is highly unlikely that a well behaved Brit would create those kinds of very extreme effects in practice by accident.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 20:22
  • Accidentally causing offense to others’ worldview happens all the time does it not? If I say to someone “religion X supports terrorism”, and the other person, unbeknownst to me is of that religion, they take offense and I fall foul of the law. Or do I misunderstand?
    – 52d6c6af
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 20:40
  • @Ben Merely causing offense doesn't violate the law. Creating an "offensive environment" is something much more pervasive than merely causing offense on a one off basis.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 20:50
  • 1
    @Ben There are many laws that call for significant interpretation. Some of it comes from key words in the text like "environment", some of it comes from the overall structure of the law, some of it comes from case law (which I don't have the resources to review in the case of English law), some of it comes from how similar issues in other laws are resolved and from "canons of statutory interpretation". As a general matter, the British statutory drafting style leaves more unstated for a judge to read into the text than most U.S. statutory drafting and trusts judges to use good sense more often.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 10:07

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