No matter how hard you try, there will be times when staff members within your organization feel like they haven’t been treated equally and have been overlooked.
But with a written policy on equal opportunities, you can help ensure that all members of staff are treated fairly and in accordance with the law.
Below we look at the importance of implementing an equal opportunities policy, as well as looking at what the law says in relation to equality and diversity in the workplace.
What is an equal opportunities policy?
An equal opportunities policy can relate to a number of different areas of employment, including:
- Employment Terms and conditions
- Pay and benefits
- Promotion and transfer opportunities
- Dismissal and redundancies
It can also relate to different types of unfair treatment, including direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation, as well as a failure to make reasonable adjustments to remove any disadvantage caused by a disability.
What does the law say about equal opportunity policies?
There is no specific legal requirement for an employee to provide a written equal opportunities policy. Nonetheless, under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against anyone for one or more nine protected characteristics. A written policy statement is best practice for any employer to ensure these legal requirements are met consistently.
The 9 characteristics are:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
An employer may be held accountable at a tribunal for any acts of discrimination or harassment carried out by a member of staff unless they can show that they have done everything they could to prevent it from taking place.
Does a small or medium-sized business need an equal opportunities policy?
Even though there is no strict legal requirement to have a written discrimination policy, there are several reasons why every employer should have in place a written and robust equal opportunities policy. These include:
- To demonstrate the businesses commitment to equality and diversity within the workplace in accordance with the law.
- To raise awareness about discrimination, harassment, and victimisation in the workplace, and to explain to staff the consequences of unacceptable conduct at work.
- To inform staff about how to handle incidences of discrimination, including how to raise a grievance at work.
- To create a positive and productive working environment in which everyone is treated fairly and with respect.
- To protect against potential legal action, where the absence of a written policy on equal opportunities is likely to reflect badly on you as an employer in the event of a claim for unlawful discrimination or unfair dismissal.
What are the dangers of an employer failing to comply with equal opportunities obligations?
By failing to comply with their obligations on equal opportunities in the workplace, an employer runs the risk of complaints being made by a disgruntled worker or job applicant.
In circumstances where a grievance cannot be resolved internally at work, this could lead to a formal complaint being lodged with an employment tribunal, leaving company owners to defend a costly and time-consuming unlawful discrimination or unfair dismissal case.
A successful claim against an employer could result in an order for reinstatement where an employee has been unfairly dismissed or the business owner could be ordered to pay a considerable sum in damages.
What should be included in an equal opportunities policy?
The contents of any given equal opportunities policy can vary with no one-size-fits-all approach suitable for all businesses. The nature and extent of a policy should be tailored to reflect the size, and culture of the company.
Below are some of the key elements that a business should consider including in an equal opportunities policy:
- An introductory statement. As a starting point the policy should reflect the stance taken by the company or organisation on equal opportunities, and how the business will respond to any discriminatory behaviour.
- An explanation of the law. This should include listing the nine protected characteristics, so staff are fully informed about who is afforded legal protection under the 2010 Act.
- The different types of discrimination. The policy should define the various different types of discrimination, clearly explaining the difference between key terms such as bullying, harassment and victimisation. This can help prevent confusion.
- The possible disciplinary sanctions for discriminatory behaviour. The policy should make it clear that all members of staff are expected to respect and act in accordance with the policy, with any discriminatory behaviour resulting in disciplinary action being taken.
- The procedure for reporting incidences of discriminatory behaviour. This should include how to lodge a formal complaint. You should also specify who has overall responsibility for dealing with issues.
Tips for drafting an equal opportunities policy
Here are a few tips for drafting an effective equal opportunities policy:
Keep it clear and simple
The key to an effective equal opportunities policy is ensuring that it is clearly drafted and easily understood. Use plain English and avoid technical jargon so the policy is user-friendly for everyone.
Have realistic terms
The terms of the policy should be realistic and not too restrictive. The management team must be prepared to enforce any rules and procedures without limiting the way in which the business is run.
Make the policy accessible to all
The policy should also be easily accessible to all staff members, including new starters and those with disabilities.
An equal opportunities policy is vital for any business to ensure that all staff are treated fairly and to prevent employers from being accused of discrimination.
We hope you have enjoyed this guide. For more useful workplace information, check out the rest of our website.
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