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How to be a truly equal opportunities employer

View profile for Kathryn Bolton
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Everyone is entitled to an equal chance for a rewarding job or career.  The introduction of equalities legislation has removed many inequalities in the workplace.  There is more, however, to being an equal opportunities employer than simply knowing which rules and regulations govern the employment conditions.

Perhaps the starting point to achieving equality in the workplace is to formulate an equality policy.  Although not generally required by law, employers are well advised to have one.  The equality policy is your opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to non-discriminatory practices, from recruitment through to termination of employment.  It can help to set minimum standards of behaviour and reduce the risk of legal action.

The amount of detail in an equality policy is a matter for each employer but the policy should be relevant to your activities.  Ensure that all managers and supervisors with responsibility for any of the areas of particular concern are provided with appropriate equal opportunities training where necessary and publicise the policy to all staff.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission Code suggests that a policy should contain:

  • A statement of your commitment to equal opportunity for all job applications and workers;
  • What is and is not acceptable behaviour at work;
  • The rights and responsibilities of everyone to whom the policy applies;
  • Procedures for dealing with any concerns and complaints;
  • How the policy may apply to the employer’s other policies and procedures;
  • How the employer will deal with any breaches of the policy;
  • Who is responsible for the policy;
  • How the policy will be implemented;
  • Details of monitoring and review procedures.

You should be familiar with the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 which prohibits discrimination, harrasment and victimisation in employment (as well as in other fields such as the provision of goods and services), in respect of the following ‘protected characteristics’:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Your policy should set out that there should be no discrimination, whether direct or indirect, because of any of the protected characteristics set out above.

Your policy should apply to all aspects of your relationships with staff and to relations between staff members at all levels.  This includes:

  • Recruitment and selection
  • Promotion, appraisal, transfer and training
  • Terms of employment, benefits, facilities and services
  • Grievance and disciplinary procedures, and
  • Dismissals, resignations and redundancies

There are many practical steps that you can take to ensuring that your organisation achieves equality in the workplace and these can be reflected in your policy.  Here are a few examples.

Recruitment and selection

  • Assess individuals according to their personal capability to carry out a given job
  • Don’t apply any age limits unless they can be objectively justified in terms of the job to be done
  • Selection tests should be specifically related to job requirements and should measure the person’s actual or inherent ability to do or train for the work
  • Keep written records or interviews and reasons for appointment and non-appointment
  • Where any provision for recruitment and selection puts disabled people at a substantial disadvantage due to a reason connected with their disability, you should make reasonable adjustments to eliminate, or if that is not reasonably practicable, reduce the disadvantage

Promotion, transfer and training

  • Examine assessment criteria and appraisal schemes to ensure that they are not discriminatory
  • Regularly monitor promotion and career development patterns to ensure that access to these opportunities is not denied to particular groups or types of workers

Terms of employment, benefits, facilities and services

  • These should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they are provided to workers in a way which is free from unlawful discrimination
  • Part-time workers should receive pay, benefits, facilities and services on a pro rata basis to their full time comparator unless otherwise objectively justified

Grievances, disciplinary procedures, dismissals and redundancies

  • Workers who, in good faith, bring a grievance (or assist another to do so) in relation to an equal opportunities matter should not be disciplined, dismissed or otherwise suffer any adverse treatment for having done so
  • Don’t discipline or dismiss a member of a particular group of workers for performance or behaviour which would be overlooked or condoned in another group, unless you have a genuine and lawful justification for different treatment
  • Examine redundancy criteria and procedures to ensure that they are not applied and do not operate in an unlawfully discriminatory manner

You should avoid making commitments in the policy that you do not intend to keep or enforce.  The policy would come to be seen as an empty gesture which may lead to a breakdown in trust and confidence.

Treating people equally may be key to a successful business. Developing a policy will involve some time in planning, reviewing, implementing and monitoring the policy, but the benefits to your workforce and your business, will ultimately be worthwhile.

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