Under the Equality Act (2010) companies are legally required not to discriminate against employees or potential employees due to issues such as race, gender, age or disability. These are examples of what the Act calls “Protected Characteristics”. Although you are not legally required to have a written diversity policy in place, it is a good idea to produce one, especially for larger companies.
Creating and publicising a policy towards diversity helps show you are meeting your legal and moral obligations towards being a diverse employer. It can also make your employees more comfortable and encourage everyone in your organisation to treat others equally.
Producing a diversity policy
When creating a diversity policy, there a several types of discrimination you need to protect your employees against.
Direct discrimination – Where you or another employee treats someone less favourably than others because of a characteristic protected under the Equality Act.
Indirect discrimination – If your workplace has rules or conditions which apply to all workers but place someone at an unfair disadvantage due to a protected characteristic.
Harassment – Any unwanted behaviour that creates an offensive environment or harms the dignity of someone covered both by the Equality Act and others at a workplace.
Victimisation – Treating someone in an unfair manner because they have previously made a complaint about discrimination, harassment or any other issues relating to a protected characteristic.
It is important to understand, however, that it may be legally acceptable to have certain specific rules or arrangements that disadvantage those covered in the act as long as this can be justified. An example would be not being able to provide disabled access to all areas of a listed building because you are not allowed to make the necessary adjustments. In these instances it is highly advisable to discuss the matter with your solicitors to make sure you are in compliance with the Equality Act.
Issues to consider
When producing a company diversity policy, it is important to consider and make clear the kinds of grounds for discrimination which you are seeking to avoid. The following are some of the most common issues you may want to cover:
- skin colour
- ethnicity or country of birth
- sexual orientation
- gender identity
- marital or civil partnership status
- pregnancy and maternity
- political affiliations
- trade union membership
It is important to remember that the legal rules about discrimination cover recruitment and offers of employment. An employer can find itself being accused of discriminating against people who are not even employees of the business.
Taking legal advice
Getting it wrong when it comes to issues around equality and diversity can leave you facing legal action and some very bad publicity. It is therefore advisable to seek guidance from an expert in employment law when producing your company’s diversity policy. If you or an employee feel that discrimination has occurred within your organisation it is a good idea to seek legal counsel at the earliest opportunity to help find an early resolution and prevent the matter from escalating.
For any issues relating to your employees, AMD’s highly experienced team of employment law solicitors in Bristol have the answers. To find out more or to book an appointment, call AMD today on 0117 962 1205 and ask to speak a member of our commercial team. Alternatively, you can contact the Head of our Commercial Department Tony Moore directly.