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What Does Equal Opportunities Mean?

The UK has always strived to promote equality in the workplace. Through the years there have been different statutory bodies that dealt with specific aspects of discrimination. The Equal Opportunities Commission was established to tackle the issue of sex discrimination. The Disability Rights Commission focused on issues related to disability discrimination and the Commission for Racial Equality dealt with race discrimination.

In October 2007 these three commissions were merged into the new body called the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In addition to taking on the responsibilities of the three existing commissions, the EHRC also acquired new responsibilities in order to provide the same level of protection to all other minority groups.

The primary aim of the newly formed Equality and Human Rights Commission is to promote and protect everyone’s right to equal opportunities in the workplace as laid down in the Equality Act 2010.

Definition of Equal Opportunities Under The Equality Act 2010

The term “equal opportunities” upholds the idea that all workers within an organisation should be entitled to and have access to all of the organisations facilities at every stage of employment, including the pre-employment phase.

This means every individual should have:

  • An equal chance to apply and be selected for posts pre-employment
  • An equal chance to be trained and promoted while employed with the organisation
  • An equal chance to have their employment terminated equally and fairly

Denying any employee or prospective employee their right to equal opportunity in the workplace is tantamount to discrimination, which is considered unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.

The Equality Act has specified 9 areas that are termed in the legislation as protected characteristics. These include (in no particular order):

  1. Age
  2. Sex
  3. Race
  4. Disability
  5. Pregnancy
  6. Marital status
  7. Sexual orientation.
  8. Gender reassignment
  9. Religious background

Discriminating against workers because of any of the nine characteristics is against the law.

What This Means For Employees

To comply with the terms of the Equality Act, employers must have policies in place and must adhere to certain practices that aim to prevent accident claims, discrimination and foster equal opportunities within the organisation.

All workers and job applicants must be treated equally and be given the same set of opportunities regardless of their age, sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, disability, culture or anything other personal characteristic that might be discriminated against.

As a worker, you have a right to:

  • Fair practices and behaviour in the workplace
  • Fair allocations of workloads
  • Equal access to benefits and conditions
  • A workplace that is free from unlawful discrimination, harassment or bullying at work
  • Competitive merit-based selection processes for recruitment and promotion
  • Fair processes to deal with work-related complaints and grievances

If any of these rights are breached or your employment is terminated and you deem it as unfair dismissal an employment solicitor should be able to offer you their expert opinion.

Establishing Equal Opportunities During The Recruitment Stage

All employers must follow certain procedures for recruitment to ensure that all applications are treated appropriately and fairly and that, all things being equal, no candidate is rejected because of their age, gender, race, sexuality or any other protected characteristic.

This means recruitment procedures must meet the following criteria:

  • The job description must be set so that all applicants are assessed against the exact same criteria and nothing else.
  • The post is advertised in a variety of locations, such as job centres, online and in the press so that it is available to as wide an audience as possible
  • An interview panel must be put in place so that more than one person’s opinions are weighed in when deciding on whom to award the position to.
  • All questions that are not relevant to the job must be excluded from the questionnaire. Applicants should not be asked about their age, race, religion or any other protected characteristic.
  • Female applicants must be treated the same as male applicants. Disabled applicants must be treated the same as applicants with no disabilities. Pregnant applicants must be treated the same as non-pregnant women.

Establishing Equal Opportunities In the Workplace

All employers must follow certain procedures in the workplace to ensure that all workers are treated appropriately and fairly and that, all things being equal, no candidate is treated unfairly because of their age, gender, race, sexuality or any other protected characteristic.

Establishing equal opportunities in the workplace may include:

  • Ensuring that all similarly qualified employees have equal access and opportunity to all training and advancement facilities regardless of sex, gender, age or disability. No employee should be overlooked for training or promotion because of any protected characteristic.
  • Making reasonable adjustments in the workplace to accommodate physically challenged employees.
  • Ensuring that no employee is paid any more or less than any of their colleagues who are equally qualified, equally experienced and performing the same role.
  • Advertising new roles externally as well as internally so that anyone who meets the qualifying criteria gets the opportunity to apply.
  • Making sure that no employee is dismissed solely because of a personal characteristic.
  • Ensuring that the same rules apply to employees from all religions regarding extra time off during religious holidays.

Every employer should have their own equal opportunities policy in place, which is customised to their organisation. This policy must detail the steps the organisation will take to comply with the equality legislation and promote equality in the workplace. Having a formal policy makes it easier for all employees to know what is acceptable and expected of them as individuals and as part of the organisation.

The Effect Of Equal Opportunities On Companies and Staff

When an organisation supports the principle of equal opportunities for all, employees can rest assured that they will not be discriminated against in the workplace. Employees are more committed to working hard when they know that they have equal opportunities for advancement and there are no barriers to job progression.

Also, knowing that they are evaluated solely on their on-the-job performance and measurable merits empowers employees and encourages them to do their best.