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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.

Affirmative Action

Positive Action

What you need to know

How we can help


What is affirmative action?

This involves taking steps within the law to bring about a change in your workforce so that it broadly reflects the composition of the population from which it is drawn. In the course of conducting an Article 55 review, it specifically means considering the composition in terms of the Protestant and Catholic communities.

This may mean modifying or abandoning practices that act as barriers to the promotion of equality of opportunity or fair participation. Some measures are always lawful and may be taken at any time, whilst some other measures are only lawful if certain conditions apply. On the other hand, some steps are never lawful for example, using quotas to fill vacancies.

The Equality Commission also recommends adopting measures consistent with the law that bring about a diverse workforce, reflecting the population as a whole in terms of sex, age, disability, religious belief, political opinion, and sexual orientation.

Diversity in the workplace makes sound commercial sense. It helps to broaden the mix of knowledge and skills in an organisation, it can ignite creativity and innovation, and therefore contribute to a business’s competitive advantage. It enables employers to capitalise on the skills of all their staff, rather than only a fraction of the talent available.

Do I need to take affirmative action?

Yes, where it is reasonable and appropriate. Any employer who discovers a problem area or potential problem area should take action to resolve the situation - there is no need to wait until action is required by the Commission. An Article 55 review is a useful way of determining whether fair participation exists and, if this is the case, whether the situation is likely to continue.

What action should I take?

Appropriate measures will follow from the analysis of your Article 55 Review. You should draw up a programme which is suitable for your particular needs. All employment practices and procedures should be examined to see if they have an adverse impact on members of a particular community. Unless these are justifiable they must be abandoned and replaced by measures which ensure equality of opportunity for all job applicants and employees.

How do I implement affirmative action?

Affirmative action programmes are likely to be successful when employees and management work together to achieve the aims of the programme. For this reason, consultation with recognised trade unions or employee representatives should take place following the review, prior to the introduction of any affirmative action programme and at various stages thereafter. Contact us at any time for advice about action you as an employer are contemplating.


Examples of Affirmative Action:

  • Where members of one community are applying in fewer numbers than might reasonably be expected, you could include a statement in advertisements that applications from that group are particularly welcome
  • If a lower proportion of members of one community is recruited, then changes to the recruitment procedures may be appropriate
  • If fewer members of one community are represented in senior positions than might reasonably be expected, then it might be appropriate to devise a training or development programme which would fit members of that group for promotion but would not exclude members of any other group
  • If members of a community are underrepresented in the workforce, a training programme for that community may be appropriate.


You may amend your redundancy procedures to ensure that gains made as a result of affirmative action measures at the recruitment stage are not automatically lost in the event of redundancies. Any new procedures may not be framed by reference to a particular religious belief or political opinion.


What are ‘Chill Factors’?

The community balance of an organisation’s workforce may be affected by a ‘chill factor’. This can occur when members of one community can feel discouraged or prevented from applying for employment in an organisation because it is traditionally associated with the other community. You must attempt to overcome chill factors by adopting appropriate affirmative action measures.

For example:

  • You can encourage applications from the underrepresented group to achieve a more representative pool from which employees will be selected.
  • You may provide training for people at a particular location or for people of a particular class to help fit them for employment – but you may not confine the training to members of one community.


In some circumstances you may be allowed to develop training programmes focused solely on individuals of a particular religious belief.


We believe that helping you promote and encourage good equal opportunities practice is as important as enforcing the equality law. Every year, the Commission helps hundreds of businesses and organisations comply with equality laws.

We recognise that employer needs differ across sectors and businesses – so we tailor our services to meet employers’ varying needs.


We provide high quality training seminars and information sessions to employers on a wide range of equality issues.

These events provide advice and guidance on employers’ duties under current equality laws and on introducing best practice. We recommend that employers carefully consider their needs and choose the seminars and sessions which are of most benefit to them.


    Training sessions include:

   •  Introduction to understanding equality
   •  Equality training for line managers
   •  Recruiting fairly
   •  Harassment at work
   •  Pregnancy, maternity and flexible working
   •  Mental ill-health at work
   •  Promoting disability in the workplace 
   •  Reasonable steps defence
   •  How to complete an Article 55 Review
   •  Monitoring form workshops







We are flexible in terms of themes covered and can tailor courses to suit employers’ business needs. Further details are available on our employer training page or email - Tel: 02890 500600


In-house training

On occasion, the Commission can provide in-house training for organisations.  Where the Commission agrees to such a request, we will normally deliver one session to key staff within the organisation and assist them to disseminate the training internally. For in-house training requests email or Tel: 028 90 500600.

Speaking engagments

If you are organising an equality related event, Commission staff can share their expertise to highlight relevant issues in equality law that relate to your business priorities. For further information, contact Paul Oakes  Tel: 028 90 500600.

Employer news eZine

To receive updates on our training seminars, events and employer equality networks sign up to receive our Employer & Service Providers' Newsletter using the subscribe button at the bottom of the page.


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