Announcing the changes, Jacqui Smith, deputy minister for women and equality at the DTI, said: "We have long had laws to prevent discrimination in the workplace against women and on grounds of race – these new measures bring about much wider equality …
This new legislation will establish minimum requirements in law so that people can no longer be denied jobs because of prejudice, so that harassment can be tackled promptly and effectively, and so that people have an equal chance of training and promotion, whatever their background."
What does this mean for workers?
The regulations will help those who currently feel bullied or sidelined because of their sexuality or beliefs. In practice, this means that you could challenge your boss or human resources department if you feel you've missed out on a job or promotion. If you've faced hurtful comments about your beliefs or sexuality, you can use the new law to seek compensation.
What beliefs does the religious law cover?
This is a potential minefield, because it doesn't just mean mainstream religion, but also includes minority groups such as Druids, and can even be applied to atheists. Employers can be asked to accommodate workers' beliefs by giving them time off for religious holidays and providing prayer rooms and facilities at work.
These new measures bring about much wider equality … This new legislation will establish minimum requirements in law so that people can no longer be denied jobs because of prejudice
Jacqui Smith, women and equality, DTI
However, don't try to apply this to your political beliefs – and you can't demand a day off to go and protest against visiting presidents or to vote!
How far do the new laws extend?
These laws could seriously affect working practices such as the advertising of jobs, interviewing procedures and what's considered acceptable behaviour in the office and on site. For example, even asking a potential employee whether they're married could be a no-no, as it could be seen as prying into someone's social life. And everybody will have to be careful with day-to-day banter: the laws cover individuals as well as companies, so those people who harass or victimise colleagues can now be sued.
Will this affect my financial situation?
Not at the moment. The law doesn't cover pension schemes, so you can't use it to challenge a scheme that only gives survivor benefits to married couples. However, a number of trade unions are looking at ways of challenging this in the courts, as they believe it amounts to indirect discrimination against gay couples.