Equal Opportunities

About equal opportunities and discrimination

It is important for every organisation to uphold their duties with regards to non-discrimination and equal opportunities. Equal opportunities is about treating everyone fairly and with respect. There are clear legal obligations and failure to comply with these can lead to claims for discrimination.   

The main legislation in this area is The Equality Act 2010.

An organisation and / or individual within an organisation can be liable for acts of discrimination. Discrimination can be direct or indirect. It can be intentional or unintentional.

In this section we look at the different types of discrimination and the protected characteristics that are set out in the Equality Act.  This section explains the different types of discrimination and what action should be considered to prevent discrimination occurring in the workplace. We consider disability discrimination and the duty to make reasonable adjustments, your equal opportunities policy and why this is so important, and training employees so they know what behaviour is (and is not) acceptable. 

Frequently asked questions

Speculating about a colleague's sexuality can constitute harassment. If one of your employees is harassed by colleagues, or even their Manager, about their sexuality, your employee can make a complaint and take their case to an employment tribunal if you don't deal with it properly. You should make it clear to your employees that it is unacceptable and unlawful to victimise another member of the team on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Remember, harassment is subjective and what might appear legitimate or light-hearted to some people, may well be unsettling and intrusive to others.

Not allowing people to pray during scheduled unpaid breaks could be challenged as religious discrimination under the Equality Act. Regulation 12 of the Working Time Regulations provides for the employee to have 'an uninterrupted period of not less than 20 minutes away from his/ her work station' and as such can be used by the employee for rest, relaxation, reading, prayer etc. A further issue over praying during working hours generally arises with those of a particular faith that are required to pray at specific times of the day if those times fall within 'working hours'. Muslims are required to pray 5 times per day. In a normal working day of 8 hours, 2 of these prayer times will generally fall within the working day; it would generally be considered reasonable to accommodate a request from the employee to use their 20 minutes as two 10 minute breaks, during which they could pray. Depending on the nature of the work and the needs of your business, you may not be able to accommodate a break at a particular time, but you need to be clear to the employee as to the business justification as to why you cannot specifically allocate their break at that time. Permitting requests from employees however for an increased break allowance for prayer in addition to their normal permitted breaks, could be seen as treating them more favourably than others who do not make requests for prayer. It is similar to smokers and whether you allow additional smoking breaks which disadvantages non-smokers. In summary, unless you have a specific business justification as to why you cannot permit an employee to use their entitled breaks to pray, you could be in contravention of the Equality Act by refusing to allow prayer on your premises. You should try to have an understanding of the relevant faith ritual that the employee presents to you and seek to accommodate the employee's desire to engage in those rituals; if you cannot accommodate them, make sure you have a legitimate business reason for not doing so. Recent case law suggests that employers should also consider providing, where possible, a quiet place to pray. This does not necessarily mean building a specific prayer room, but looking around the business premises and allocating a place that is reasonably quiet and where employees can spend time uninterrupted. There is not normally a business justification for not allowing employees a place to pray during contractual/ agreed break times. A claim challenging the failure to provide a quiet place to pray without restrictions, will have a reasonable prospect of success.

No, but you could be discriminating against some of your employees if they are paid less than others for doing the same job in your business. If you have a relatively large number of employees, you can conduct an equal pay audit to identify any pay gaps. If you run a smaller business where the numbers of, say, ethnic minority, female or disabled employees are very small, you could ‘spot check' their salaries against their white, male or non-disabled colleagues doing similar jobs. You don't need to publicly show how much you pay each employee, but if you find any pay gaps you should resolve these unless there are sound non-discriminatory business reasons for the gap.

For most people holding a door open is nothing more than common courtesy. However, if someone takes offence at this, it would be sensible not to do it. To avoid any claims of sexism it might be a good idea (and good manners) to hold the door open for everyone, regardless of their gender.

It is your responsibility by law to make sure your employees are not subject to racist language that they may believe offensive or inappropriate (even if the language is not directly targeted at anyone). You should make it clear to all your employees that such language is not tolerated in the workplace and could lead to disciplinary action. Consider developing a code of conduct that bans racist behaviour and the use of such language and identifies it as gross misconduct. By having a code of conduct that you can enforce, you can help protect yourself from allegations of racial harassment (see the Equal Opportunities Policy Template).

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