It’s not only the law to promote equality, fairness and diversity in the workplace – there are many business benefits too. The Equality Act 2010 states that employers cannot discriminate against anyone based on the nine ‘protected characteristics’, which include age, sex, race and disability.
Having a workplace free from discrimination will lead to a more productive team. It will also improve the image of an organisation, and help attract, retain and motivate talented employees. Costs will be reduced due to having to recruit fewer new members of staff, and by avoiding potentially expensive employment tribunal cases.
Preventing discrimination begins right at the start of the employee/employer relationship – recruitment. When advertising jobs, it is unlawful to advertise a position in a way which indicates that the position is only available to members of one sex, age or race (unless it is a Genuine Occupational Qualification).
Employers should avoid asking health-related questions during application and interviews, unless they determine whether a candidate can carry out a function essential to the role or whether reasonable adjustments can be made to assist a disabled candidate.
A vacancy will also have to be advertised so that it reaches a wide enough audience. An employer can be left open to a discrimination claim if it is perceived that candidates from certain demographics were excluded from seeing the advert.
All employees who have worked for their organisation continuously for 26 weeks can ask for flexible working. Any refusals must be business-based, without inadvertently discriminating against the employee due to their personal circumstances.
For example, one employee shouldn’t be given precedence over another during school holidays because they have children. Like holiday requests, flexible working request should be dealt with on a first-come-first-served basis and considered on its own merits.
Of course, once a request has been accepted, the business circumstances then change. Managers don’t have to accept all requests just because they accepted one. If the office needed covering staff, then that would be the reason for refusal regardless of the employee’s own circumstances.
Equal pay and benefits
All employees, both male and female and in full-time or part-time employment should have a right to the same pay, benefits and terms and conditions for doing equal work.
Employers must now be aware of the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap is the average difference between hourly wages for men and women. Having a large gender pay gap can be indicative of discrimination and a lack of opportunities for women to progress within the organisation. It should not be confused with equal pay. This requires workers of both sexes to be paid the same for ‘like work’, and not doing so is illegal.
Training and promotion opportunities
Training and promotion should be available to all employees without being affected by possessing a protected characteristic, or whether they are full-time or part-time.
Training in itself is an important tool in preventing discrimination. Training employees in equality and diversity helps create a happier, safer workplace. Once guidelines have been set, employees will know what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour at work and will know what the consequences are if they fail to adhere to those boundaries.
For managers, they will know what to do if and when a complaint is made to them. Through training, they will understand the serious nature of any allegations made and should follow a set procedure outlined in a formal policy.
Dismissals and redundancies
If an employee is dismissed because of a protected characteristic, they do not need any minimum employment period to make a discrimination claim.
Employers should make reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees with disabilities, or move them to a more suitable role (with their agreement). Any dismissal due to an employee still being unable to perform their job to an acceptable level would have to be based on ‘capability’ after the adjustments have been made.
Be especially careful when selecting who might be made redundant. For example, using a ‘last in, first out’ policy could be discriminatory as most newer workers are likely to be younger than more established employees.
How to stop discrimination
The place to start when promoting equality and fairness at work is by introducing an equality policy. It should make clear the organisation’s aim to provide a workplace where discrimination, bullying and harassment will not be tolerated, and outline a commitment to adhering to the terms of the Equality Act 2010.
The policy should be communicated to all members of staff, so everyone is aware of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. Regular staff training will also educate both managers and employees on their roles and responsibilities in making the policy work effectively.