As an employer, you have a duty of care and responsibility to treat your employee equally. It's on your shoulders to create a company that provides equal opportunities to all its staff.
There are many things you can do to help foster an inclusive and equal culture within your workplace. Failure to treat your employees equally can lead to discrimination claims being made against you.
In this guide, we'll discuss what an equal opportunity at work is, how you can ensure equality in your business, and what happens if you get it wrong.
What are equal opportunities?
Equal opportunities means all employees receive equal opportunities and treatment whilst at work.
Each person should receive the following:
- An equal chance for training and promotion opportunities at each stage of employment, including the pre-employment phase.
- The chance to be treated equally, and with dignity and respect.
- A fair process for any work-related complaints or grievances.
- A workplace free from discrimination, harassment, or bullying at work.
- The chance to have their employment terminated equally and fairly.
As an employer, you need to understand the laws surrounding equality in the workplace.
How does the law protect equal opportunity?
In the UK, it is against the law to treat your staff unfairly. Failure to do so can lead to claims being raised against you, which could lead to business disruption and reputational damages to pay.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Equality Act 2010 were introduced to provide the same level of protection to all
What is the Equality Act 2010?
The Equality Act 2010 is a piece of equality legislation to help promote equality in the workplace and wider society. As an employer, you must have due regard to promote equality.
The Act outlines nine protected characteristics that cover employees from unlawful discrimination. They are:
- Gender reassignment.
- Marriage and civil partnership.
- Pregnancy and maternity.
- Religion or belief.
- Sexual orientation.
Why are equal opportunities important?
As an employer, you shouldn't ignore the importance of equal opportunities in the workplace.
A culture with an equal chance for everyone allows employees to thrive, no matter their background or identity. But, there is a fantastic range of benefits to creating a workplace with equal opportunities.
What are the benefits of equal opportunities?
The number of benefits that come with equal opportunities is staggering. And as an employer, you shouldn't ignore them.
The benefits include:
- Creating a diverse range of people to work together in your business effectively.
- Allowing knowledge and ideas from different areas of society to thrive.
- Attracting a wider range of talent during the recruitment process.
- Creating a more represented workforce.
- Increasing employee engagement, morale, and teamwork.
- Growing your company’s reputation.
- Promoting an inclusive and vibrant workplace.
How to promote equality in the workplace
As a business owner, you should strive to create an equal workplace. To become an equal opportunity employer, you can do the following:
Establish equal opportunities during the recruitment process
Any job applicants must be treated equally and with the same opportunities regardless if they hold one of the protected characteristics. You should never reject someone for a job because they hold a characteristic under the Equality Act.
Your recruitment process should meet the following criteria:
- The job description must allow for all applicants to be assessed against the same criteria.
- The job should be posted in a variety of ways to reach as many people as possible, such as job centres and online.
- The interview panel should be varied and include people from different backgrounds. This allows for different opinions when choosing who to hire.
- All questions asked must be relevant to the job in question. You should never ask an applicant about their age, race, religion, or any other protected characteristic. Unless it’s necessary, for example if needing to service alcohol.
- You must give all job applicants equal chances. This includes people with disabilities, pregnant people, and female applicants.
Provide equal pay for all employees
As an employer, you should ensure equal pay throughout your company. Meaning no employee is paid more or less than others for performing the same role, especially if they’re equally experienced and qualified.
Employers should also provide equal funding for training resources, education, and development where possible.
Ensure equal access for all employees
This means offering promotion opportunities to the best person for the job, based on qualifications and experience. Meaning all your employees have the best chance to reach their full potential and achieve decision-making roles.
You should never overlook an employee for training or promotion because they hold a protected characteristic. For example, not promoting an older employee over fears of their capability could be age discrimination.
Make reasonable adjustments where required
Employers should always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate any employees with disabilities. Making reasonable adjustments for disabled people goes a long way to creating an equal workplace.
An example of these adjustments are:
- Making physical changes to your premises, such as building wheelchair ramps.
- Introducing flexible working to allow for medical appointments.
- Providing aids for an employee who has difficulties hearing.
Avoid unlawful discrimination
All employers must avoid discrimination in their workplace. Discrimination is treating someone unfairly due to them holding a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
Allowing discrimination in your workplace is not only against the law but has negative connotations for an employee. Such as:
- Damage to their mental well-being.
- A decrease in their performance, morale, and productivity.
- Being missed for potential development and experience opportunities.
Allow time off during religious holidays
The modern-day workplace will include employees from different religious backgrounds. So as an employer, you must allow equal access for anyone to celebrate a religious festival.
Refusing a request to observe a religious festival for no reason should be avoided.
For example, introducing a rule where all employees must work on Sundays may discriminate against a set of religious groups.
To ensure you're creating equality in your workplace, you should introduce an equal opportunities policy.
What should you include in an equal opportunities policy?
An equal opportunities policy is your chance to show you're committing to promoting equality of opportunity.
You should include the following in yours:
- A written statement explaining your commitment to equal opportunities and nondiscrimination.
- A list of all forms of discrimination that are covered by the policy, as per the Equality Act.
- How you'll ensure equality during the recruitment process, and during employment.
- A statement explaining that all forms of discrimination, harassment, victimisation, and bullying are unacceptable.
- How you will deal with any complaints of bullying or discrimination in your workplace.
Creating a policy will increase your employee's confidence in you and your company.
What happens if you don't provide equal opportunities?
As an employer, you should never underestimate the importance of equality in the workplace. Treating an employee unfairly due to a characteristic they hold should be avoided.
If your unfair treatment of an employee leads to resignation, you could face a constructive dismissal claim.
Failure to provide equal opportunities may lead to claims of discrimination. Being made against you. And, if found guilty at an employment tribunal, be made to pay heavy financial damages.
Receive expert advice on equal opportunities from Peninsula
As an employer, you have a responsibility to create an equal workplace for all your employees. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect and dignity.
There are many ways that you can harbor an equal culture in your business. Failure to treat your employees equally can lead to claims being raised against you by an employment tribunal.
Peninsula offers a 24/7 HR advice line which is available 365 days a year. Our experts in employment law take care of everything. Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 051 3687 and book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants.