Does your business need an equal opportunities policy?
If you are an employer then you will be aware that you're not allowed to discriminate against employees when recruiting or in employment but you may not be exactly sure what that means or how you comply with the law. The relevant law is the Equality Act 2010, which pulled together all existing anti-discrimination law and added some new elements. If your business has employees then it applies to your business, regardless of size, sector, whether or not you’ve recruited before and regardless of whether or not you use a formal recruitment process.
The Equality Act makes it unlawful to treat someone less favourably or discriminate directly or indirectly against someone in recruitment or employment on any of these grounds ('protected characteristics'):
- gender reassignment
- religion and belief
- sexual orientation
- marriage or civil partnership status
The ACAS website has a good video about discrimination and protected characteristics.
All employees should be given equal opportunities within employment. Ability to perform the job should be the primary consideration when recruiting and promoting.
Any employee who believes they have been discriminated against, either during recruitment or employment, can make a complaint to you or lodge a discrimination claim with an Employment Tribunal. Your business can also be held vicariously liable for discriminatory acts of your employees against colleagues or customers.
An equal opportunities policy is a document which sets out a businesses’ commitment to complying with equality law and sets out what practices and procedures they have in place to support that commitment. For example, the equal opportunities policy might include a code of practice for recruitment that covers how it will use: selection criteria, advertising, interviews, and selection methods. It would probably also cover practices that will apply during employment such as: anti-discrimination training, promotion policy, record keeping, and a commitment to regular review of their recruitment practice.
There is no law that requires a business to have an equal opportunities policy but there are several reasons why it's a good idea:
- it makes good business sense to treat employees fairly, considerately and consistently – an equal opportunities policy gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your businesses’ commitment to equality in the workplace
- sets the correct corporate tone for all employees
- can help reduce liability in the case of any discrimination claims by demonstrating that the company has done all it can to prevent discrimination.
Your employees need to know and understand what your equal opportunities policy means, so you should also provide equality training to all your staff. This is another important way of showing that your business is doing all it can do to prevent discrimination.
Finally, you may wish to carry out regular equality-related monitoring to make sure your business is meeting its equal opportunities goals. Monitoring records can also be used as evidence that your business is complying with the law if a discrimination claim is brought against you.
An equal opportunities policy need not be a long document but it should cover (at least) the key features outlined above. A solicitor experienced in employment law could draft one for you or you could purchase a template equal opportunities policy and tailor it to suit your business. The equal opportunities policies template we offer has been drafted to suit the needs of small businesses.