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How to encourage and maintain equality in the workplace

Posted by Lotty Reeves on 29th June 2020

As Pride month comes to an end and communities across the world continue to strive for equal rights and status, now is the time for everyone to acknowledge the importance of diversity and inclusion. Employers too should look carefully at the role equality plays within their workplace. Offering equal opportunities to all is considered in every aspect of employment, from initial recruitment to drafting terms and conditions of employment, offering training and development, the application of promotion criteria and treatment of grievance and disciplinary issues.

What steps can I take to ensure equality?

Equality legislation’s main purpose is to prohibit discrimination, harassment, and victimisation in the workplace. The main statute which governs the meaning of equality and what harassment and discrimination really mean is the Equality Act 2010.  Even though the legislation explains what discrimination is, and what forms harassment and discrimination can take, it is up to the employer to implement best practice and take all reasonable steps to prevent any such acts from taking place.

Reasonable steps can include:

  • Encouraging fair practices and behaviour in the workplace which actively aim to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and bullying at work.
  • Providing fair allocations of workload amongst workers.
  • Equal access to benefits and conditions for workers.
  • Fair and consistent recruitment and promotion procedures.
  • Fair processes and procedures to deal with employee grievances and disciplinary issues.

The Equality Act 2010 has nine specific areas that are termed as “protected characteristics”:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender reassignment
  • Religious background

You cannot treat anyone unfavourably based on the individual having one of any of these protected characteristics, either directly or indirectly by for example, implementing discriminatory policies which may prejudice those with that particular characteristic.  All workers and job applicants must be treated equally and be given the same set of opportunities regardless.

What is the best practice?

It is vital that employers have the correct policies and procedures in place in order that they can offer equal opportunities consistently and fairly. Employers should discourage their workers from adopting discriminatory attitudes and behaviours and act promptly if any such attitudes or behaviours are reported in the workplace.

It is also vital to have a robust social media policy which applies to your staff’s activities on social media platforms. We have seen an increase in queries from clients in respect of dealing with issues around staff posting derogatory or offensive material on their own social media platforms both inside and outside of work. It is clear how this would be dealt with if posted during work time, but not so clear when posts are published outside of working hours and/or on their own personal platforms. A clear social media policy which is well communicated to staff can not only act as a deterrent to staff acting in this way, but also detail how it can be dealt with.

It will not only prevent discrimination claims if someone in your workplace feels as if they are being bullied or harassed because they have a protected characteristic, but it will also protect everyone’s wellbeing and improve productivity in the workplace.

An equal opportunities policy which is designed to comply with the Equality Act 2010 together with an anti-harassment and bullying policy to encourage employees to stick to fair practices and procedures in the workplace to reduce the risk of discrimination are very important and should be enforced in the workplace.

If you need advice on ensuring that your practices are in line with legislation and best practice when offering equal opportunities, or require assistance in the creation and implementation of policies and procedures, please speak to a member of our employment law team.

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