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What Is An Equal Opportunities Policy?

HR reviewing equal opportunities policy

As a society, we’ve taken great steps towards becoming more inclusive, accepting, and tolerant. But, despite the progress we’ve made, discrimination, harassment, and bullying are still common occurrences in the workplace. 

To combat this, one of the things you can do is build out an equal opportunities policy. This article will walk you through the basics of this policy, when to use it, and a template for what to include.

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What Is An Equal Opportunities Policy?

An equal opportunities policy is a company’s formal document that outlines their commitment to fair treatment of all employees, regardless of:

  • Age

  • Sex

  • Race

  • Gender Reassignment

  • Disability

  • Pregnancy

  • Marital Status

  • Religion or Beliefs

The policy also includes guidelines on what their commitment to equality looks like in practice and their procedures for issues regarding discrimination, harassment, and related conflicts.

Why An Equal Opportunities Policy?

The purpose of an equal opportunities policy is to provide transparency and accountability, to your entire company, about what constitutes fair treatment and what is considered discrimination, abuse, and harassment.

Your policy should also address both direct and indirect discrimination.

Direct discrimination refers to discrimination against a specific person because they possess a protected characteristic (listed above), are perceived to have a protected characteristic, or are associated with someone who does.

For example, if an employee was being harassed at lunch by other employees for following a specific religion, that would be direct discrimination.

Indirect discrimination is when a policy, rule, or arrangement that applies to all employees discriminates against a certain group of people.

For example, say your company has a healthy living initiative that includes team excursions with activities like skiing, hiking, or bowling. That’s great, but it doesn’t account for those with physical disabilities who wouldn’t be able to participate. This would be an example of indirect discrimination.

In the UK, over 8.2 million workers say they’ve been discriminated against due to their gender, and 70% of ethnic minorities have experienced racial harassment at work in the past five years.

For your company, this makes having an equal opportunities policy not only a nice-to-have document, but all but essential in a contemporary working context.

The Equality Act 2010

While UK companies aren’t legally required to have an equal opportunities policy, it is highly suggested as it supports the Equality Act 2010.

In October of 2021, The UK Government passed the Equality Act 2010, an updated discrimination law that protects Britains from unfair treatment.

All UK citizens are covered by this act regardless of whether or not their company has an equal opportunities policy in place, but having a workplace policy further cements employee protections and demonstrates their commitment to the policy.

Do You Need An Equal Opportunities Policy?

Even if you don’t see bullying in the workplace every day, it still may be a problem in your company. According to a 2020 survey, 23% of UK workers have been bullied at work, 25% have been made to feel left out, and 12% have struggled to make friends.Still, there are plenty more reasons to implement an equal opportunities policy aside from addressing workplace bullying.

If your company shares any of the following goals, then it’s likely time to implement an equal opportunities policy:

You Want A Better Workplace Culture

While you may think your commitment to equality goes unsaid, it’s best to say it anyways—better yet, put it in writing. Set an example for your team members, increase awareness of inequality in the workplace, and shed light on any conscious or unconscious discrimination they may be perpetrating or experiencing.

What type of company culture do you currently have? Find out here.

You Want To Reduce Workplace Conflicts

If your workers are experiencing harassment, bullying, or discrimination in the workplace, the time to create an equal opportunities policy is now.

By officially declaring your commitment to equality, sharing guidelines around workplace behavior, and outlining disciplinary procedures, all employees will know where the company stands.You may also want to consider partnering the launch of your equal opportunities policy with employee training that focuses on equality, inclusivity, and diversity in the workplace.

You Want To Increase Employee Retention

When a workplace has an equal opportunities policy in place, employees feel protected, heard, and empowered. Workers will also typically stay in a job longer if they feel the environment is positive and safe, especially if they identify as a minority or are a member of an underrepresented group.

You Want To Improve Talent Attraction

Many workers are looking for inclusive work environments that specifically call out their commitment to inclusivity and equal opportunities. You’ll attract a more diverse talent pool of qualified candidates by promoting your equal opportunity policy in job postings and on your website.

You Want Legal Protection

Without an equal opportunities policy, you may face legal action against employees who’ve experienced harassment, discrimination, or abuse in the workplace, without any official documentation that protects you.

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What Should You Include In An Equal Opportunities Policy?

Your equal opportunities policy doesn’t have to be pages upon pages long to be comprehensive. In fact, it’s better if you cover everything in one clear and concise document. This will help employees at all levels feel confident in their understanding of their rights, procedures, and the company’s guidelines.

Here are the essential components of an equal opportunities policy in the UK:

1. An Introduction

Your introductory statement should simply and clearly outline your company’s commitment to equality in the workplace and its stance on discrimination, harassment, and abuse of all types, as covered in the Equality Act 2010.

2. Employee Expectations

Layout the company’s expectations of employee behavior in the workplace, as well as the consequences for not adhering to the policy.

3. Who Is Covered

Clearly state that the policy applies to every employee within the company, from leadership to mid-level to entry-level workers and support staff, as well as job applicants, prospective employees, and hired workers.

4. Key Terms

How does your team define harassment, abuse, bullying, discrimination, and victimization? What are the differences between each? Clearly define these key terms and the differences so there are no grey areas or misunderstandings.

5. Complaint Procedures

When an employee experiences inequality in the workplace and brings their complaint to HR, what happens next? Establish a step-by-step procedural document that walks those involved through the process, from the moment the complaint is issued to the moment it’s resolved. This document should include the name and contact information of the manager or HR professional overseeing the process.

Once your policy has been solidified, share it company-wide to ensure all employees have access to the document. Update the document as needed while communicating any updates to employees to maintain accountability and transparency.

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In Practice: Equal Opportunities Policy Examples

No matter the size of your company, what industry you work in, or whether you’re fully remote or in-office, you can benefit from implementing an equal opportunities policy. Here are a few instances where having this type of policy is advantageous:

Hiring and Recruitment

Your recruitment team may have a conscious or unconscious bias when interviewing and hiring workers, leading to discrimination.

Your policy should clearly define your stance on discrimination in the hiring process and how to avoid it, such as:

  • Eliminating names or other personal details on the CVs you receive

  • Assessing all applicants based on the same merits and requirements

  • Posting the job in a variety of accessible locations

  • Establishing a well-balanced interview panel

  • Excluding structured interview questions that are unrelated to the job

Promotion

Establish career progression maps for each role so employees know exactly what it takes to advance in the company (accomplishments, knowledge, skills, seniority level, etc.). Employees and employers should also regularly meet to discuss the employee’s goals and expectations. Additional recommendations include:

  • Providing all employees with access to the same training and development opportunities

  • Ensuring job opportunities are advertised internally and externally

Pay

Pay transparency is a huge part of workplace equality, especially when it comes to the pay gaps between men and women. If employees are in the same role and completing the same tasks, their pay should be equal and not assigned due to discriminatory reasons such as age, sex, or gender. We recommend:

  • Promoting pay transparency by including salary ranges in job adverts

  • Never discouraging employees from discussing their pay with their coworkers

Termination

When terminating a worker’s employment contract, HR should always ensure they’re being let go for sound reasons.

If an employee feels they’re being terminated due to discrimination, they may proceed with legal action, in which case having an equal opportunities policy can help protect the company. You should also:

  • Investigate the cause of the termination to ensure it’s not based on a protected characteristic

  • Clearly outline the reason for the termination to the employee and present evidence to support it

Get Inspired: How Spotify UK Gets It Right

There are many things you can do to improve equality in the workplace, in addition to implementing an equal opportunities policy.

For example, Spotify UK shines a spotlight on their workplace equality every year by releasing an annual Gender Pay Report.

In the 2020 edition, they lay out their workplace’s gender pay gaps, gender bonus gaps, and gender representation across the business. They also outline their commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion, and clearly define what they’ve done—and plan to do—to improve.

This is just one example that you can use to inspire change in your workplace and promote a more fair environment for all.

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