Equal opportunities in the workplace

09 July 2019

The UK being a diverse country, it’s usually expected that the UK workplace should be inclusive.

There’s no legal requirement to employee people from different backgrounds, but you need to ensure your workplace policies aren’t preventing people from working with you. If they are, you could face discrimination claims and employment tribunals.

One way to remain diverse and inclusive is to offer equal opportunities; but what does equal opportunity mean?

In this guide, we’ll explain what equal opportunities are, the benefits of a diverse work environment, and how to promote inclusivity in your workplace.

What is equal opportunity?

Equal opportunities in the workplace, means that individuals should be given equal rights at work, equal access to jobs, and fairness during requirement processes – although not an exhaustive list.

No one should have poorer life chances because of things they can’t change – such as the way they were born, where they come from, what they believe in, or whether they have a disability.

Lack of equal opportunities in the workplace can lead to discrimination cases, which carry an unlimited fine. And claimants don’t need to have a minimum service period to make a claim. This means they don’t need to have worked at the organisation for at least two years, unlike with unfair dismissal claims.

It's not just the legal ramifications that employers should consider, but also a tarnished reputation for future recruitment.

To assist employers, an equal opportunity act was enacted to govern the minimum standards that employers should adhere to when it comes to keeping the workplace diverse and inclusive. This is called the Equality Act 2010.

Equality opportunities legislation

There aren’t many specific equal opportunity laws in the workplace, but the most important equal opportunities legislation is the Equality Act 2010.

The Act prohibits employers from treating someone unequally by making it a legal offence to discriminate, harass, and victimise ‘protected characteristics’.

There are nine protected characteristics under the 2010 Act, as follows (in no particular order):

  • Age.
  • Sex.
  • Race.
  • Disability.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Marital status.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Gender reassignment.
  • Religion or beliefs.

Treating anyone differently based on these characteristics in comparison to those who don’t have these characteristics would be unlawful under employment law.

The Act also includes treating employees fairly in relation to pay – the right of men and women to receive equal pay for equal work. Many employers are required to publish data on their gender pay gap.

When it comes to pay, the Act doesn’t just apply to wages, but also covers:

  • Pensions.
  • Working hours.
  • Annual leave allowance.
  • Overtime pay.
  • Benefits, such as gym membership or a company car.
  • Redundancy pay.
  • Bonuses that are included in an employment contract.

If an employee brings an equal pay claim to an employment tribunal, they can also bring a sex discrimination claim.

Benefits of equal opportunities

Aside from avoiding costly and time-consuming tribunal claims, there are many other benefits of having equal opportunities and diversity in the workplace, some of which are as follows:

  • Promotes fairness.
  • Helps companies remain competitive.
  • Helps to promote representation.
  • Increases creativity and the generation of new ideas that can better the company.

Employing individuals from a wide range of backgrounds will allow for better idea generation.

Equal opportunity examples

Some examples of how employers can show that they’re diverse and inclusive are as follows:

  • Implementing an equal opportunity policy to showcase the steps employers will take to abide by equality legislation and promote equality in the workplace.
  • Providing training to tackle unconscious bias in the workplace and ensure that recruitment processes are fair and inclusive.
  • Implementing procedures that prevent discrimination during recruitment, such as CVs with no personal details.
  • Ensuring promotions are extended to all members of staff equally, where applicable. Conversations about how staff see their career developing may help too. This includes any training and support they need to progress into more senior roles.
  • Avoid paying employees any more or any less than their colleagues who are performing the same role – extend pay rises to staff equally where applicable.

Expert support on equality with Peninsula

Discrimination doesn’t need to be intentional for it to cause harm. Ensuring you offer equal opportunities to all employees and candidates can help you build a happier, and more diverse workforce.

If you don’t keep inclusivity in mind when creating workplace policies, you risk indirectly discriminating against workers with certain protected characteristics. This can harm your workplace culture, and lead to costly employment tribunals.

Let the experts at Peninsula help you. Our team of specialists can draft policy documents that will promote equal opportunities to all. And you can get answers to urgent employment questions any time day or night, with our 24/7 HR advice line.

Need advice but not a client yet? You can still enjoy a free advice call from one of our business experts. Simply call us on 0800 028 2420.

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