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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 employer?

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 Policy (pdf) 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.

It is important to remember that being an equal opportunities employer is a process, not a one-off event, and it needs continuous commitment and work if it is to succeed.

How to become an Equal Opportunities Employer in 12 easy steps:

1. Declare that you are an equal opportunities employer and adopt employment policies which show your commitment to that principle (see our Model Policies page).

2. Introduce an anti harassment and bullying policy and seek to promote a good and harmonious working environment.

3. Recognise that some people have disabilities and that they may be disadvantaged by your policies, practices and procedures or by the physical features of your premises and commit to making reasonable adjustments to remove or minimise those disadvantages.

4. Ensure that your recruitment and selection procedures are fair and are founded on the principle of objectively selecting the best person for the job.

5. Ensure that employment policies, practices and procedures reflect your commitment to equality. For example, working patterns should allow flexibility for those who have caring responsibilities and those with disabilities.

6. Deal promptly and seriously with any complaints of discrimination and harassment or bullying that you may receive.

7. Lead by good example. Show that you take the commitments outlined in your equal opportunity policies seriously by consistently applying them yourself. This should be done not merely by yourself and your senior managers but by all your line managers.

8. Seek the support of your workforce and their trade union representatives, in your efforts to promote equal opportunities. This can make it easier to implement your policies in practice.

9. Get your message across. Inform your managers and employees about how you expect them to behave and about the importance of complying with your employment policies. Be proactive: speak to your employees too and check that they know what you expect of them.

10. Provide training in equal opportunities that is appropriate to each employee’s role. This is another aspect of getting the message across. It is important that all employees, but especially those with supervisory responsibility and those who make recruitment and selection decisions, are familiar with equal opportunities principles and with your policies and procedures.

11. Monitor how you provide equal opportunities and how your policies are operating by collecting data about the profile of your workforce, applicants and appointees in terms of characteristics such as community background, sex and disability and, review and analyse the data periodically.

12. Take positive or affirmative action, where appropriate; e.g. where your analysis of monitoring data reveals that certain groups are under-represented in your workforce or are experiencing disadvantages compared to other groups. By doing so, you may be able to correct those problems, increase the diversity of your workforce and better promote equality of opportunity in your employment.

For further information download:

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