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Why have an Equal Opportunities Policy?

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.

Generally, an equal opportunities policy is not legally required, but it is recommended by Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHCR) as good practice.

What is the purpose of an equal opportunities policy?

The primary objective of an equal opportunities policy is to set out the minimum standards that are expected by the employer in avoiding and preventing discrimination and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

A well-drafted policy will discourage prejudiced behaviour and mindsets while affirming that employees’ and job applicants’ progression and opportunities will be based on their relevant merits and abilities.

An effective policy should cover all aspects of employment. What we mean by this is that it should apply to areas including recruitment, promotions and development opportunities, training, grievances, discipline, and any other employment area appropriate.

The policy should also be drawn up in consultation with any recognised trade union or body. This includes any equality representatives already in the workforce.

What does equal opportunity in the workplace mean in the UK?

The Equality Act 2010 states that employers must not discriminate against any worker in terms of the following protected characteristics:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Why is it important to have an equal opportunities policy in the UK?

Legal protection

An employee who believes they have been treated unfairly because of or in relation to one of the protected characteristics can bring a claim in the 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 liable for the discrimination even if it was committed by a fellow worker rather than the organisation as a whole. This can apply even if the discrimination occurred outside of normal working hours.

Having a robust equal opportunities policy in place can help the organisation defend the claim. If it demonstrates that it put measures (such as a well-drafted, regularly reviewed equal opportunities policy) in place to prevent the discrimination from occurring, it might be able to avoid the kind of liability mentioned above.

With this in mind, many organisations choose to take professional advice on how to demonstrate their commitment to equal opportunities in the workplace and mitigate the risk of being held liable for discrimination in the workplace.

Empowering victims of discrimination

An employee who believes that they have been discriminated against may be reluctant to report what has been happening due to a fear that their complaint will not be taken seriously or that it could antagonise those responsible for the harassment.

A well-drafted policy, however, will demonstrate that discrimination will not be tolerated by the organisation and should give employees the confidence to come forward with their complaint.

Enhances the reputation of an organisation

An organisation which shows a firm commitment to ensuring equal opportunities is likely reap the rewards of having a positive reputation.

This can bring benefits in three specific areas.

Firstly, 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.

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 its ability to repay a loan might be compromised by the award of compensation by an employment tribunal.

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.

There is also increasing corporate governance reform targeted at ensuring a workplace culture that promotes DEI.

For these reasons, it is highly recommended that organisations have a robust equal opportunities policy in place for the reasons set out above.

For more information and advice on the above, please feel free to reach out to the Employment Team at Wilson Browne Solicitors or call 0800 088 6004

Tom Charteress


Tom Charteress

Trainee Solicitor

Tom is a Trainee Solicitor in the Commercial Litigation team in our Kettering office.