New equality rights in workplace come into force
New streamlined workplace equality rules are due to be implemented, after being approved by the government.
The Equality Act covers many workplace areas and draws nine separate pieces of legislation into a single Act.
Equalities Minister Theresa May says it will now be easier for firms to comply with anti-discrimination rules.
The Act also bans age discrimination by employers and includes provisions aimed at extending the rights of disabled people.
The new law restricts the circumstances in which employers can ask job applicants questions about disability or health prior to offering them a position, making it more difficult for disabled people to be unfairly screened out.
"In these challenging economic times it's more important than ever for employers to make the most of all the talent available," said Ms May.
There are also new powers for employment tribunals.
The Act will also stop employers using pay secrecy clauses to prevent employees discussing their own pay, which means men and women can compare pay.
But the Act will not make employers reveal how much they pay men compared with women, as had been planned by the Labour government.
"Everyone is protected by the new law," says the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
"It [the Act] covers age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex (meaning gender) and sexual orientation.
"Under the act people are not allowed to discriminate, harass or victimise another person because they belong to a group that the Act protects, they are thought to belong to one of those groups or are associated with someone who does."
During the summer there were some concerns expressed by shipping companies.
Some claimed the laws could force them to quit the UK because they would have to pay UK rates to foreign-based seafarers who do not have the burden of British living costs.