Be an equal opportunities employer

Here’s how to stay on the right side of employment law, and avoid costly tribunals

1 Formulate a policy

An equal opportunities policy is your chance to publicly state your business’ commitment to non-discriminatory practices. It should spell out a definition of sexual harassment, a pledge to uphold employment law in the treatment of staff and the consequences of breaking these rules. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) recommends the policy should be compiled and overseen by a member of management at ‘the highest possible level’. Conduct regular reviews.

2 Be aware of the law

Myriad laws surround recruitment and treatment of staff, so make yourself aware of them. This includes: The Equal Pay Act (1970), which outlaws gender bias in salaries; The Sexual Discrimination Act (1975), which makes discrimination based on sex or marriage unlawful; The Race Relations Act (1976), which bans racist practices and the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), which outlaws bias against disabled people without justification. In addition, it will be against the law to discriminate against recruits on the basis of age from 1 October 2006.

3 Get recruitment adverts right

Don’t specify anything in your recruitment advertising that would artificially exclude certain applicants, other than by their ability and experience. Not only is specifying a certain gender or race discriminatory, it is also counter-productive in ensuring your business attracts the best possible talent.

4 Keep an open mind on abilities

It’s important not to become set on one ideal ‘model’ for employees. For example, disabled employees may not be able to undertake tasks exactly the same as colleagues, but with a few simple modifications, they could become your most valuable employees.

5 Don’t let pregancy be a barrier

Legally, pregnant staff must be allowed paid time off for antenatal care and can’t be dismissed because of their pregnancy. It is also short-sighted to drive away talented women due to concerns you will suffer from their maternity leave. You are now required to consider flexible working arrangements – use this to your advantage. Many employees are more productive working from home, so offer them the means to contribute before they return.

6 Become investors in people-accredited

It’s good PR and also reassures other businesses that you are an ethical and honest operator. The scheme lists diversity as a key method of motivating and retaining staff.

7 Audit your pay

To avoid the risk of demoralising staff and possible legal action, make sure you conduct regular reviews of pay structures to iron out any gender bias.

8 Investigate a formal grievance procedure

If a member of staff does have a complaint, you need a comprehensive and transparent grievance and disciplinary procedure that is rigorously followed. This reassures employees that you take any problems seriously and cuts down on the chances of the complaint going to court.

9 Improve workplace access

Since October 2004, the Disability Discrimination Act applies to businesses of all sizes. You are required to make your workplaces and services user-friendly to disabled customers and staff. This means ramps and lifts, plus equipment and facilities that are easy-to-use for those with mobility difficulties and those with sight or hearing impairments.

10 Bear in mind the benefits

Rather than grudgingly complying with the law, consider the business benefits. A strong policy should help boost staff morale and improve retention. A diverse workplace attracts the best talent, regardless of background, while the enhanced corporate image and reduced danger of court action cannot be underestimated.

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