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Equal Opportunities. Do you comply?

Over 40 pieces of legislation and codes of practice are rolled up into the new Equality Act 2010 which came into force on October 2010 making life a little easier in theory with just one piece of legislation to refer to and simplifying certain definitions of discrimination.

You may think that the previous Discrimination Acts had little to do with you anyway but you may be surprised to know that as an employer, you are ‘vicariously liable’ for any acts of discrimination carried out in the course of employment, by any of your employees. You may also be surprised to know that you are liable if you do not take ‘all reasonable’ steps to prevent an employee of yours discriminating against, harassing or victimising someone and that claiming that you were not aware of the act would not be considered to be a defence in a tribunal situation.

A new definition of Unlawful Discrimination

It is now unlawful to treat someone less favourably because of any of the following protective characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender-reassignment
  • Marriage & civil partnership
  • Pregnancy & maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation.

Areas of employment where discrimination concerns are most likely to occur are in recruitment, promotions, appraisals, flexible working requests and discipline at work matters. To minimise problems you need to make sure that any decisions made are fair, objective and unbiased and, wherever possible, demonstrate this with a clear paper trail of how and why these decision were made.

So, how can you defend against a discriminatory situation? A good place to start is a robust Equal Opportunity policy followed by some briefing of your managers so that they understand their responsibilities topped up with some training on what constitutes unlawful discrimination. Take a look at your application forms to check that they only ask for relevant information specific to the job and listed on the job specification. It is a good idea to split the form into sections such as a personal information section that is held by HR, an equal opportunity section to monitor compliance and a final section that might ask questions around how an applicant feels they meet the selection criteria that should be restricted to those making the selection decision. Alternatively a more straightforward approach is to contact Turnstone HR in Barrow for some friendly help and advice on this particularly tricky HR subject.

“There is evidence to suggest that good HR practice and people management in SMEs are key factors in strong business performance and can lead to increased productivity.”

- CIPD people Skills Project 2017


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