What makes a good Equal Opportunities policy - and why you need one
Posted on 13th December 2021 at 10:09
Most companies appreciate the importance of providing equal opportunities to employees, applicants, clients, and other stakeholders. However, being well-intentioned isn’t always enough.
Here’s why your business needs an easy-to-read Equal Opportunities policy:
Improve Employee Confidence in your Organisation
Sometimes you perceive your business very differently to others. A survey in October 2021 found that 51% of workers do not think their workplace will ever offer equal opportunities to people of all backgrounds. Looking at specific backgrounds:
43% don’t believe ethnic minorities currently have equal opportunity within their organisation
A third (34%) think their company fails to deliver equal opportunity for women
32% think their company fails to deliver equal opportunity for over-50s
a quarter (24%) say it lacks opportunity for those with disabilities.
Separate research suggests as few as 36% of disabled people are open about their disability at work, for fear that it will affect their treatment.
Even if you believe you offer equal opportunities, your employees may not feel the same. This perception could damage their morale, their commitment to staying at your organisation, and whether they recommend your company to potential applicants or clients.
A policy will help you to demonstrate not only your commitment to equal opportunities, but the steps you are taking towards equality.
Encourage Engagement to Help Progress
While 88% of workers agree diversity and inclusion agenda is important, only 46% engage with it. For many, this is due to fear of the consequences if they say the wrong thing.
Workers admit to actively avoiding conversations about gender, sexuality and age to avoid the risk of saying the wrong thing. One in six fear they could lose their job for using the wrong terms around race & ethnicity, and nearly 30% believe they would face a formal disciplinary.
Why does this matter? Actively avoiding conversations about certain issues could slow down your progress towards equality. More generally, employees worried about dismissal and nervous of what they say around each other are unlikely to feel positive about the workplace.
A good Equal Opportunities policy is an important step towards an open environment. It shows employees that you care about inclusion as much as they do and sets out how you are working towards equality.
A clear disciplinary and grievance policy (to be read alongside your Equal Opportunities policy) could also be beneficial in showing employees when and how disciplinary measures are used. This would reassure employees that such measures aren’t used without careful thought. It could also discourage discriminatory behaviour by showing that it will be taken seriously.
Protect your Business from Legal Claims
The legal definition of discrimination is more precise than the common use. Misunderstanding of the law can lead to well-meaning organisations facing legal claims for discrimination.
In one case, a firm was found to have discriminated against male employees on the basis of sex as part of a diversity drive. The company intended to create a more diverse workforce and move away from its reputation “as being full of white, British, privileged [men].” However, choosing candidates for redundancy based on a protected characteristic (here by sex) was discrimination, even where that characteristic was overrepresented and not historically oppressed. A good policy, written by an Employment Law expert, would have understood this and set out what measures are acceptable to improve diversity.
Discrimination protections are not limited to employees. Job applicants are also protected, and yet 17% of disabled adults report having a job offer withdrawn while 30% felt they had not been taken seriously when applying for a role, due to their disability. If you fail to follow the law when recruiting, you could face disability discrimination claims from applicants. Your Equal Opportunities policy should state who is covered, including all parties you have legal obligations towards.
Under the Equality Act (section 109) employers may be held liable for their employees' actions. If you face a claim for your employees' actions, you may be able to defend yourself by showing you took reasonable steps to prevent the behaviour. Having a clear policy setting out the importance of equality and the consequences of discrimination could help your defence.
Ensure the Future of Your Business
It seems that equality and diversity will be an important issue to future generations. 40% of young people said they would rule out working for an organisation with a gender pay gap, including one third (33%) of boys who felt strongly enough to rule out such employers.
The best way to attract talented employees in the future will be to offer an equal workplace where they have the opportunity to progress, whatever their background.
What makes a good Equal Opportunities policy?
Having an Equal Opportunities policy is only the first step, but it is an important one. A policy shouldn’t just sit in storage, but that’s what can happen if you don’t get the right policy. A good policy is one that your whole organisation can get behind and knows how to implement.
It should be specifically tailored to your business, so that it is realistic for you to achieve. A one-size-fits-all policy that is impossible for your business to deliver will only set you up to fail. You will be more motivated to implement a policy that fits your business objectives and feels achievable.
Your policy should be clear enough that all employees fully read, understand, and correctly implement it. An easy-to-read policy is more accessible to all staff – itself an important consideration for inclusion of neurodiverse employees or staff with English as a second language.
If a good policy is a first step in the right direction, a bad policy takes you along wrong path and can actively hinder your efforts. The Business Disability forum has raised concerns that employers’ focus on targets can actually impact negatively on disabled employees experience of the workplace. A policy is only a good way of demonstrating your business culture if it genuinely reflects your culture.
How we can help
We can help you produce an employee handbook – including Equal Opportunities and Grievance policies - that is easy to read and easy to understand.
A set of 20 policies, tailored to your business by one of our employment solicitors, is available for £895+VAT.
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