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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.

Equality of opportunity

What you need to know

What is an equal opportunities?

An equal opportunities employer is one who:

  • makes genuine efforts to comply with the spirit and letter of the equality laws
  • promotes a good and harmonious working environment in which employees will be treated with dignity and respect, and who
  • does not discriminate unlawfully against or harass any person on the grounds of:

 - Sex
 - Pregnancy or maternity
 - Gender reassignment
 - Married or civil partnership status
 - Religious or similar philosophical belief
 - Political opinion
 - Racial group
 - Sexual orientation
 - Disability
 - Age

An equal opportunities employer also makes genuine efforts to ensure that its workplace and its employment policies and practices do not unreasonably exclude or disadvantage those job applicants and employees who have disabilities. To that end the employer complies with the duty to make reasonable adjustments that is imposed on employers in relation to such persons.

An equal opportunities employer also operates recruitment and selection procedures that are fair and are based on the principle of selecting the best person for the job.

What are the benefits of being an equal opportunities employer?

Equal opportunities in the workplace is not only good practice, it also makes sound business sense. An equal opportunities policy will help all those who work for you to develop their full potential, utilizing their talents and resources and maximising the efficiency of your organisation. Being an equal opportunities employer also helps to attract the best talent available when recruiting staff.

To become an equal opportunities employer you should commit yourself to the above principles and show your commitment by developing and implementing an Equal Opportunities Policy.

What is an equal opportunities policy?

This is a policy designed to ensure that an organisation complies with its equality obligations under anti-discrimination law. It benefits staff and potential employees and helps achieve dignity at work, contributing to providing the best possible services to clients.

How should I develop an equal opportunities policy?

You can download our model Equal Opportunities Model Policy (word doc) and tailor it to your particular business or organisation. Key elements should include:

  • a statement of intent, including aim and objective of the policy
  • who the policy applies to (scope)
  • outline of specific commitments/actions which will be undertaken
  • how the policy will be implemented and who is responsible
  • monitoring and review
  • how complaints will be dealt with

Businesses and organisations must take care to ensure that the wording of their policy is clear and accurate and that they understand what they are committing to.


How should I implement the policy?

As an equal opportunities employer you should take steps to continually fulfil the commitments set out in your policy by:

  • communicating the policy to employees, job applicants and relevant others (such as contract or agency workers)
  • incorporating specific and appropriate duties in respect of implementing the equal opportunities policy into job descriptions and work objectives of all staff
  • providing equality training and guidance as appropriate, including training on induction and management courses
  • ensuring that those who are involved in assessing candidates for recruitment or promotion will be trained in nondiscriminatory selection techniques
  • incorporating equal opportunities notices into general communications practices (eg, staff newsletters, intranet)
  • obtaining commitments from other persons or organizations such as subcontractors or agencies that they too will comply with the policy in their dealings with our organisation and our workforce
  • ensuring that adequate resources are made available to fulfil the objectives of the policy.

What if I don’t implement the policy?

Then commitments made in it are empty. In the event of a discrimination or harassment complaint, an industrial tribunal or the Fair Employment Tribunal may take the view that any failure by you to implement your policy is evidence of your failure to take such steps as were reasonably practicable to prevent your employees from committing acts of unlawful discrimination or harassment.

If you find yourself in this position you may find it difficult to establish a ‘reasonable steps’ defence in order to avoid legal liability for the discriminatory acts of your employees. However, if you can show that you effectively implemented your policy, then you will have a considerable advantage when it comes to defending a complaint.


What is a Joint Declaration of Protection?

A Joint Declaration of Protection (JDP) is a document in which the employer, senior managers, and employee representatives can sign up to stating that they are all committed to promoting equality of opportunity, preventing discrimination and harassment and to promoting a good and harmonious working environment. This can be achieved by letting your employees and their trade union(s) contribute to the development of your equal opportunities policy. The JDP can be displayed on staff notice boards, intranets and in other prominent places within the workplace.

The Commission has drafted a model Joint Declaration of Protection (word doc). You may use this when drafting your own declaration and are free to make appropriate amendments to suit your own particular needs.

What is an Equality Plan?

An Equality Plan provides employers with a practical and manageable framework for coordinating all aspects of equality work undertaken within their organisation. It can help when developing policies and procedures, reviewing working practices and when carrying out risk assessments.

For further information download:

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