Aside from being the right thing to do, research has shown that there’s a correlation between increased diversity and company performance. In short, valuing equality and diversity is good for your business. While bearing that important factor in mind, this guide will outline some of the must dos for your business.
As an employer, it’s vital that you only use information directly related to the job when both hiring and appraising (for whatever reason) a worker.
Information that shouldn’t be considered in relation to your potential or current staff is known as ‘protected characteristics’.
The law that governs how employers must behave towards workers when it comes to protected characteristics is set down in the Equality Act 2010.
It doesn't just apply to employees: workers, self-employed contractors, trainees, contract and temporary workers, whether full time or part time are also protected.
The 4 main types of discrimination are...
Treating someone less favourably due to someone’s protected characteristic
Making a workplace rule that is disadvantageous to someone’s protected characteristic
Causing someone to feel undermined and/or uncomfortable because of their protected characteristic
Acting unfairly towards someone because they’ve complained about discrimination or harassment
It is unlawful to discriminate against an individual because of any of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. The nine protected characteristics are age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and marriage and civil partnership.
You can’t make hiring decisions based on them when and once employment is confirmed and underway. It’s therefore important for you to have a detailed equal opportunities policy that both you and your employees follow at all times.
Aside from the protected characteristics, you should strive to avoid discrimination for any other irrelevant factor, and aim to build a culture that values diversity, fairness and transparency.
Positive discrimination: when discrimination is acceptable
There are some rare situations in which discrimination is acceptable.
Sometimes it may be necessary to make a business decision that may not work in favour of every candidate or employee. In this instance, the employer would need to prove that the decision is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’ - or, in other words, the decision has been made to enable an aim that’s absolutely vital for the business and there’s no non-discriminatory way to achieve the aim.
For example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in the Employment statutory code of practice, states that "a women's refuge which lawfully provides services to women only can apply a requirement for all members of its staff to be women" (an “occupational requirement”).
Or, for example, where a job in a building with no lift (and no reasonable means of installing one), requiring employees to operate on more than one floor of that building, (perhaps a hotel with a need for house-keeping staff), could not be offered to someone unable to travel comfortably and regularly up and down the stairs carrying equipment.
Another situation which could make discrimination acceptable is where an employer acts to help someone they consider to be at a disadvantage, or who has specific needs, due to a protected characteristic (i.e. the employer takes positive action to create an opportunity for that person).
An example of this would be setting up a management training programme focused on encouraging diversity and equality in senior roles, in a primarily male-run business, where female employees have commented on feeling demotivated to seek promotion.
However, the employer must be able to prove that the positive action has been carefully considered and is not discriminatory against other employees.
It’s also acceptable (in fact, mandatory) for an employer to make adjustments to the workplace in favour of employees with disabilities, meaning that making reasonable adjustments is required. These reasonable adjustments need to be made as soon as the employer becomes aware of the employee’s disability.
A reasonable adjustment could mean the altering of a door opening arrangement to accommodate a wheelchair or shuffling furniture around to make more room internally for it; it could include conducting an occupational health and safety assessment to check that an employee has the right desk and chair set-up, or slightly different equipment, large letter print, better lighting, etc. It could mean adjusting internal hiring and/or promotional practices to ensure wider and more representational diversity, revisiting the retirement arrangements, ensuring more regular and in-depth training on what discrimination means and how to avoid it.
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