Reasons to choose Wilson Browne
What is an equal opportunities policy?
All businesses must comply with equal opportunities legislation to prevent discrimination from occurring in the workplace.
An equal opportunities policy provides details of how an organisation should address any issues that arise, including how instances of employment discrimination should be reported, how they will be investigated and how offenders will be punished.
We will see below why tackling any form of prejudice within a company is so important and how having a robust equal opportunities policy in place to combat bias can play a vital role in this regard.
Wilson Browne’s team of employment solicitors has a wealth of experience in working with employers to put in place rigorous procedures that ensure all workers have the chance to fulfil their full potential.
What does equal opportunity mean in the workplace in the UK?
The Equality Act 2010 gives individuals the right to live their lives free from the fear of prejudice and discrimination. In the workplace, this gives people the right to equality in terms of:
- Termination of employment
The law states that employers must not discriminate against any worker in terms of the following protected characteristics:
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- sexual orientation
Why is it important to have an equal opportunities policy in the UK?
An employee who believes they have been denied their right to equal opportunities can take their case to an employment tribunal.
Should their claim succeed, the company may have to pay out a considerable amount in compensation and suffer significant reputational damage.
Under UK law, an organisation can be found to be at fault even if the discrimination was committed by a fellow worker both during and outside of normal working hours rather than the organisation as a whole
However, having a robust equal opportunities policy in place, can help the orgainsation defend in respect of the claim – this includes the ability to demonstrate that it had put measures in place to prevent discrimination. It can also help in the defence of any claims of vicarious liability.
As this is a specialist area of law, many organisations choose to take professional advice on how to demonstrate their commitment to equal opportunities in the workplace.
Changing attitudes and behaviour
Putting in place an equal opportunities policy and communicating its contents to all workers, is one key way for an organisation to send out a clear message that discrimination in the workplace will not be tolerated and that anyone found to be responsible for behaving in such a way will face serious consequences.
Such a clear signal may prompt the workers in question to make the necessary changes to their behaviour.
In some cases it may even be that individuals were treating colleagues in a discriminatory way without being aware of it. A robust equal opportunities policy can help as they typically make clear the types of behaviour that are unacceptable. This, in turn, can lead to those who may otherwise have inadvertentely acted/did inadvertently act in a prejudiced way to do so.
Empowering victims of discrimination
An employee who is the victim of prejudice may be reluctant to report what has been happening due to a fear that their complaint will not be taken seriously. They might feel that raising the issue could actually make matters worse as it could antagonise those responsible for the harassment.
An equal opportunities policy which is well drafted and of which all workers are made aware of sends out a clear message that discrimination will not be tolerated by the orgainistion and should give them the confidence to come forward with their complaint.
Creates a harmonious and stable workplace
Allowing discrimination, harassment and/or victimisation to occur in a workplace can cause significant disruption to a organisation’s operations. Employees who are on the receiving end of such behaviour and who do not see any prospect of things improving may have low morale and motivation. This in turn can lead to higher rates of absenteeism amongst the workers affected; it may, also result in those workers seeking alternative employment.
Such an unstable and disaffected workforce can cause great disruption to a working environment, affecting both productivity and an organisation’s ability to meet its objectives and it’s ability to deliver a quality service to customers.
Conversely, an environment where every member of staff is aware of the ground rules and knows that no form of prejudice towards fellow workers will be tolerated has greater prospects of being much more harmonious and efficient, where employees with contrasting backgrounds and experiences can bring different perspectives to bear. Such an environment can provide benefits in terms of workers’ commitment (as they know that hard work will be valued and rewarded) and the organisation’s profitability.
Enhances the reputation of an organisation
An organisation which shows a firm commitment to ensuring equal opportunities in all areas of its activities is likely to enjoy significant reputational benefits and positive publicity as it becomes known as one which operates in a fair and principled way.
This can bring benefits in three specific areas.
Firstly, in terms of the quality of applicants who seek to join the organisation due to its reputation for providing a positive and diverse working environment where all colleagues are respected. In this way, the organisation becomes an employer of choice and increases the size of the talent pool from which it draws its recruits.
Secondly, when it comes to marketing its products or services, having a reputation for operating with integrity can provide an organisation with a competitive edge (whether it be a high street store or a firm of quantity surveyors or offering any other form of goods or services).
Thirdly, in providing access to capital for expansion. Some financial institutions now require organisations to have an effective equal opportunities policy in place to reduce the likelihood it’s ability to repay a loan being compromised by the award of compensation by an employment tribunal.
Potential access to new markets
By employing people from a range of backgrounds, an organisation gains a valuable knowledge base for potential new markets – both geographically and socially. An equal opportunities policy encourages diversity within the workplace which can in turn encourage a positive and vibrant approach.
Is it a legal requirement in the UK to have an equal opportunities policy?
Companies in the UK are not legally obliged to have an equal opportunities policy – but they are required to meet the terms of the Equality Act 2010 and provide a working environment that is free from discrimination.
For this reason it is highly recommended that organisations have a robust equal opportunities policy in place for the reasons set out above.
Are there examples of UK equal opportunities policies available?
There are also a number of templates available that can be downloaded from the internet to form the basis of your policy. However, solicitors such as Wilson Browne can offer bespoke advice and guidance to help you create a policy that meets your specific requirements.
How do you create an equal opportunities policy?
Should you wish to create your own policy, rather than using a template, the step-by-step approach below provides guidance on how to draft a document that is right for your organisation.
You may still wish to have a solicitor look over your policy once complete to ensure it is fit for purpose.
Set out the aims of the policy. Points to mention include:
- creating a workplace free from discrimination
- providing a positive environment where all employees can work together in harmony
- holding offenders to account for their actions
Who the policy applies to
It should be made clear that the policy applies to everyone who works at the organisation – including full-time, part-time and temporary workers, as well as agency staff.
This section should also make clear who is responsible for enforcing the policy.
The policy should highlight the company’s pledge to create a working environment free from prejudice.
It should be made explicitly clear that any discrimination, harassment and victimisation based on a clearly set out criteria (including, for example, age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation) is a contravention of the policy and will be punished.
It is important to set out that the responsibility of all workers is to behave in accordance with the policy. There should also be guidance on what someone should do if they are a victim of prejudice – or if they believe that one of their colleagues is experiencing it.
The policy may explain how the organisation’s recruitment process will operative in a fair and non-discriminatory way including the drafting of job advertisements, short-listing procedure, interviews, selection and ongoing monitoring of the process.
How do you promote equal opportunities in the workplace?
There are a number of positive steps that employers can take to prevent discrimination from occurring in the workplace. These include:
It is important to ensure that job advertisements use non-discriminatory language and stress that applications are welcome from all backgrounds. Employers should also look at whether it is possible to accept relevant experience in lieu of qualifications and remove the name of the candidate from the application form before passing it to the hiring manager.
Ongoing training for all employees
Providing all employees with regular training on issues regarding discrimination can play a vital role in preventing problems from arising. For example, an individual may be guilty of unconscious bias by using language they do not realise is offensive to some colleagues.
An ongoing programme of education in this area can ensure that everyone is aware of what is not acceptable – and modify their behaviour accordingly.
Employers can help create a harmonious environment by making it clear to staff that the company believes in and is committed to diversity in the workplace; individuals from different backgrounds are not just tolerated, they are actively welcomed and valued as their experiences and perspectives add to the company’s knowledge base and ability to act in creative and innovative ways.
Encouraging flexible working
Actively supporting and facilitating a work/life balance policy not only brings practical benefits to employees – it also sends out a strong message about the value the employer places on diversity. Allowing individuals to take holidays on important religious days, for example, conveys the respect that the organisation has for them and their beliefs.
Where can I get more advice about equal opportunities policies?
Putting in place a robust equal opportunities policy can be an excellent way for a business to prevent discrimination from taking place. This will not only help it to fulfil its obligations under the Equality Act 2010 but can also strengthen a company’s brand and create a harmonious and creative environment where people with different backgrounds and experiences come together to work in an innovative way.
Wilson Browne can help you put the foundations in place for a positive and vibrant future by offering expert help and advice in creating an a robust employment policy that truly reflects your organisation’s values and aspirations.
With offices in Corby, Higham Ferrers and Rushden, Kettering, Leicester, Northampton and Wellingborough, our team of employment solicitors can offer a friendly face-to-face meeting at a convenient location.
The first 15 to 20 minutes of our chat is free and our fees are totally transparent and extremely competitive – especially when balanced with the long-term benefits that can come from having an effective equal opportunities policy.