Equality and diversity in the workplace

In this section we will look at:

  • why organisations need to embrace equality and diversity
  • benefits of having a diverse workforce
  • promoting and maintaining equality and diversity
  • monitoring equality and diversity, and how to deal with breaches
  • legal rights and responsibilities
  • positive action and positive discrimination
  • support services

Organisations need to embrace equality and diversity in the workplace to:

  • protect their employees from discrimination
  • promote the diversity of the workforce
  • respond to changing demographics (statistical data about the population, about age, income etc.)
  • respond to changing work patterns (e.g. part-time work, job sharing, working from home)

This is supported by the Equality Act 2010. Employers cannot automatically discriminate against someone on the grounds of any of the protected characteristics:

  • age – anyone over 18 is protected
  • disability – organisations must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate staff, customers and visitors with disabilities
  • sex – equal pay, training and opportunity for males and females
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership
  • pregnancy or maternity (including breastfeeding) – only reasons of safety are not covered – e.g. equality may not be possible for pregnant women in some circumstances if the activity could harm them or the baby
  • race
  • religion or beliefs
  • sexual orientation

If there are special operational reasons, such as carers in a nursing home needing to be able to lift residents, there are exceptions to the rules, which the employer must objectively justify whilst taking care to be as fair as possible.

When there are disputes over employment that cannot be resolved through conciliation, employment tribunals can hear claims about, for example, unfair dismissal, redundancy payments and discrimination. An employment tribunal is like a court. 

There are four main types of discrimination that are covered by the Equality Act 2010:

Direct discrimination – treating someone less favourably because of:

  • a protected characteristic they possess – ordinary direct discrimination
  • a protected characteristic of someone they are associated with – direct discrimination by association
  • a protected characteristic they are thought to have (regardless of whether this perception is correct or incorrect) – direct discrimination by perception

An example of direct discrimination: A person who works as a customer service assistant in a department store is dismissed from their job following gender reassignment, even though they perform all their duties to a high standard.

Indirect discrimination – where a criterion or practice has the effect of putting people with a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage.

An example of indirect discrimination: A hairdressing salon has a policy that staff cannot wear anything on their head, so that their haircuts can be seen. Unless the employer can justify their policy, this is likely to indirectly discriminate against people who cover their heads for their religion, such as Muslim women.

Harassment – unwanted conduct that must:

  • be related to a relevant protected characteristic or be of a sexual nature
  • have the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an environment that is degrading, humiliating, offensive, hostile or intimidating for them

An example of harassment: Colleagues frequently make rude and inappropriate sexual comments and jokes behind someone’s back. The employer has a duty to stop this.

Victimisation – when a person suffers disadvantage, damage, harm or loss because of doing any of the following in good faith:

  • making an allegation
  • supporting a complaint of discrimination
  • giving evidence relating to such a complaint
  • raising a grievance about discrimination or equality
  • doing anything else for the purposes of the Equality Act

An example of victimisation: An employee provides a witness statement to support a colleague’s complaint about bullying. A month later, a promotion application is turned down, even though the employee is ideal for the job, because the manager says that they are a trouble-maker for supporting their colleague.

Not all of the protected characteristics are covered by all types of discrimination. For example, for the protected characteristic marriage and civil partnership, only the following types of discrimination are covered:

  • direct discrimination – e.g. if a married member of the team is not promoted as there will be a lot of travel and the employer feels that the job should go to a single person
  • indirect discrimination – e.g. if workplace practices apply to all workers but cause disadvantages to people who are in a civil partnership or marriage
  • victimisation – e.g. if the employee suffers disadvantage, damage, harm or loss because they have made or supported a complaint about marriage or civil partnership discrimination

If protection cannot be given under this characteristic, people may be able to make a claim under another protected characteristic, such as their sex or sexual orientation.

The protected characteristic pregnancy and maternity is different because it is only for a specified period of time, although the protections are broadly similar or stronger in most cases. The two main types of discrimination are:

  • unfavourable treatment – e.g. unfair treatment because of pregnancy or maternity; disadvantages from the employer’s policies, procedures, rules or practices; unwanted behaviour
  • victimisation – e.g. suffering harm and loss at work after making an allegation of discrimination or raising a grievance

If employees are treated unfairly because they are perceived to be pregnant, or connected with someone who is pregnant or taking maternity leave, they are not protected under the pregnancy and maternity characteristic. However, they may be able to claim under other characteristics, such as sexual orientation.

Further information can be found on the Acas website: www.acas.org.uk

The anti-discrimination measures also apply to the recruitment process under the Equality Act 2010. Job applicants have to be treated fairly as well as employees and trainees. If an applicant believes that they have been discriminated against unfairly during the recruitment process, they can take the organisation to an employment tribunal.

Employers need to avoid discrimination when recruiting, for example:

In the job advertisement
Employers must not state or imply that they will discriminate against anyone. Phrases such as ‘recent graduate’ or ‘highly experienced’ should be used only if they are actual requirements of the job. These phrases could discriminate against younger or older people who have not had the opportunity to get certain qualifications, so the criteria must be essential for the job. Indirect discrimination can occur by advertising the job only in men’s magazines, for instance.

Making the interview process and location accessible
Employers need to make practicable adjustments to make sure that the widest number of people have access. For example, candidates in wheelchairs or with mobility problems might need to use ramps and lifts to reach the interview room and workplace.

Avoiding certain questions when recruiting
Employers cannot ask applicants about protected characteristics, their health, their marital status, if they have children, or if they plan to have children. Employers can only ask about these things if:

  • there are necessary requirements of the job that cannot be met by reasonable adjustments
  • they are finding out if someone needs help to take part in a selection test or interview
  • they are using ‘positive action’ to recruit people who are disabled or from another minority group

Avoiding other topics during the application process
Certain topics are avoided during the selection process that may influence a decision unfairly and cause discrimination. For example:

  • the candidate’s date of birth – this can be used for monitoring only and is not allowed on the main application form
  • criminal convictions if they are spent – some employers are exempt from this rule, such as schools
  • trade union membership

Employers can discriminate, but only if it is a requirement for the job. For example, people under 18 cannot sell alcohol, so it would not be illegal to put a lower age limit on the job specification. 

The Equal Pay Act 1970 was the first piece of UK legislation to establish the right to pay equality between men and women. Equal pay was brought under the Equality Act 2010 and employers must give men and women equal treatment in the terms and conditions of their employment contract if they are employed to do work that is the same, broadly similar or of equal value in terms of effort, skill or decision-making.

Equal work can be identified as:

  • like work – broadly the same nature of work, even if the job titles are different
  • work rated as equivalent – based on a comprehensive job evaluation that considers factors such as effort, skill and decision-making
  • work of equal value – often based on individual cases, looking at training and skills, working conditions and decision-making, even if the jobs are different types – e.g. manual and administrative

Employees are also entitled to know how their pay is made up. For example, if there is a bonus system, everyone should know how to earn bonuses and how they are calculated.

The equal terms can cover all aspects of pay and benefits, including:

  • basic pay
  • overtime rates
  • performance-related benefits
  • hours of work
  • access to pension schemes
  • non-monetary terms – such as vouchers, outings, cars or other items
  • annual leave entitlements

Equal pay rules apply to full-time and part-time employees.

Did you know?
Of the 5.2m people in low-paid work in England, Scotland and Wales, 3.2m are women. (EHRC ‘Is Britain Fairer?’ report 2015)

Working conditions are dealt with under different pieces of legislation. For example, the Working Time Regulations generally provide rights to:

  • a limit of an average 48-hour working week, although individuals may choose to work longer by ‘opting out’
  • 6 weeks’ paid leave a year
  • 11 consecutive hours’ rest in any 24-hour period
  • an uninterrupted 20-minute rest break if the working day is longer than six hours
  • one day off each week
  • a limit on the normal working hours of night workers to an average eight hours in any 24-hour period, and an entitlement for night workers to receive regular health assessments

There are special regulations for young workers, which restrict their working hours to eight hours per day and 40 hours per week. The rest break is 30 minutes if their work lasts more than four and a half hours, and they are entitled to two days off each week.

Other working conditions are covered by Health and Safety regulations. It is a legal requirement for health and safety procedures to be in place in the workplace. Organisations have a responsibility for the welfare of their employees, customers and anyone else who comes to the workplace, and employees have a responsibility to follow the procedures.

Equality and diversity apply to working conditions in that everyone has the legal right to come under the employer’s health and safety duty of care. If someone cannot read, for example, the employer has a duty to make sure that the information is shared in a way that the employee can understand – e.g. using pictures, diagrams, demonstrations and verbal questions.

Similarly, if someone has hearing or language problems, the employer may need to adapt the communication methods to make sure that everything has been understood. If employees, trainees or applicants are in wheelchairs or have mobility problems, the employer will need to make special arrangements for evacuation in the event of a fire or other emergency.

Equality also applies to working hours and breaks. Everyone has the right to work according to the legal requirements, although they may choose to opt out. This opting out should be a voluntary process and not be enforced by unscrupulous employers trying to exploit their workers.

Working conditions and rights of people who work within the supply chain of many organisations also have to be considered. A supply chain is the link from the finished product or service right back to the raw materials and labour used in production – e.g. all the people who grow the food in another country, import it, process it, package, deliver and sell it in UK supermarkets. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 sets out a range of measures about how the UK deals with modern slavery and human trafficking. Organisations with a global turnover of over £36m who carry on business in the UK must comply. They need to publish a ‘slavery and human trafficking statement’ to disclose what they do (or do not do) to ensure that slavery and human trafficking do not take place in their own operations or in their supply chain.

As with employment and recruitment, employers cannot discriminate against promotion candidates on the basis of a protected characteristic as this is illegal. The candidate must be selected because of their suitability for the post, and discrimination on the basis of their race, religion etc. is not permitted.

Again, discriminating by association is not allowed – e.g. refusing to select a suitable candidate simply because they are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic.

Employers are allowed to use ‘positive action’ in very limited circumstances when the jobholder needs to be from a particular group for operational reasons. For example, if a male candidate and a female candidate were equally matched for promotion, the employer could use positive action to select on the basis of their gender if the company needed to increase its number of men or women for operational reasons.

Promotion opportunities should be advertised to all staff and the same questions should be put to internal and external candidates (those from inside and outside the organisation) who apply for the post.

Organisations gain many advantages from having employees from a mixture of backgrounds and identities. Benefits of having a diverse workforce can include, for example:

Getting the best people for the jobs who have a wide range of resources, skills and ideas
Employing people based on their abilities without being influenced by their lifestyle or background can help organisations to get the best person for the job. It is essential that an employer acknowledges and draws upon the strengths and differences of all the individuals it employs.

Organisations that make the most of the diverse skills, experience and knowledge of their employees can often benefit from having a competitive edge. By embracing diversity, they can make the best use of the extensive variety of backgrounds, customs, knowledge and ideas of their staff.

Having a good reputation as an employer
By creating an inclusive, vibrant and nurturing environment for work, an organisation’s employees can benefit from improved recruitment, retention and progression. Promoting individual talents and valuing people as individuals encourages improved morale, increased motivation and better understanding of staff needs and wants.

More tolerant staff, who are used to differences, experience much less harassment and discrimination, and there is an increased sense of acceptance and belonging. Staff can benefit from working with people from different backgrounds and identities, sharing knowledge and seeing others’ perspectives.

Being an employer of choice benefits the organisation as it will attract a wider talent pool when recruiting, and enable it to retain its workforce. This is cost-effective, attracts the best staff, is good for its reputation, and aids efficiency and productivity.

Reflecting the community in which the organisation is based
Developing a more diverse workforce is critical to an organisation’s ability to achieve its primary mission of being the best at customer satisfaction in the eyes of their community, and therefore, its customers. In order to understand the needs and priorities of customers or service users, the workforce needs to reflect customer groups. Employing local people, who best reflect the community, helps an organisation to identify with customers and better understand their needs.

For example, a Polish-speaking employee in an area with many Polish-speaking residents will help the business to engage with these potential customers.

Using knowledge of different areas of the community can raise the organisation’s profile in the community. Being able to understand different market segments and consumer behaviours can give an organisation a competitive advantage. A good age mix, for instance, which reflects the population as a whole, can enable a balanced viewpoint, breaking down stereotypes and leading to respect and understanding between the organisation, the workforce and the community.

Enhancing business relations and profits
In today’s global economy, ‘buying power’ rests in the hands of people from all walks of life. To appeal to a diverse customer base, organisations need to hire people from all lifestyles. By employing a diverse workforce, they can tap into specialised skills and knowledge about the marketplace and potential future customers.

Organisations can reach a wider market if they embrace diversity and their workforce reflects a wider market. Let’s consider how shopping centres and malls have developed by appealing to different types of customers. By broadening their appeal, shops can attract and cater for people from many backgrounds, races, financial situations, age groups etc. The diverse workforce helps businesses to stay in touch with the customer base and move their business forward.

Improving the organisation’s image
Workplace diversity also has an impact on a company’s image and improves a company’s reputation in society generally. Diversity demonstrates that an organisation can be responsible and representative of different people within society. Reputation is also improved when they are seen to treat employees, customers and communities with respect and consideration. A good reputation is a valuable asset to a business, and will have a positive impact on an organisation’s image.

Avoiding legal action and a bad reputation
By implementing thorough equality and diversity policies and procedures, organisations reduce the risk of discrimination that might lead to legal action and a loss of a good reputation. Investigations, complaints and litigation use up valuable time, energy, finance and other resources that can be used more productively. They can also lead to an organisation getting a bad reputation as an employer, making it harder for them to recruit and retain the best staff, and as a business, making customers look elsewhere.

Organisations take various steps to promote and maintain equality and diversity in the workplace. The steps will be set out in their equality and diversity policies and procedures, so that everyone has access to information about what is expected and the standards that must be achieved. The organisation will then act to make sure that the ideas and plans are put into practice.

Having and following equality and diversity policies and procedures
Robust equality and diversity policies set down the guidelines for the organisation, the workforce, the customers, the suppliers and others who work with the employer. They reflect the employer’s commitment to equal opportunities and give details about how this will be achieved.


Recruiting and retaining staff from diverse backgrounds and identities
Having an effective recruitment and employment policy can help to promote and maintain equality and diversity at work. The recruitment process can be run on very clear lines, with good explanations about policies, job specification and person specifications that appeal to the most diverse selection of candidates.

Similarly, it is important to encourage all staff to apply for training or promotion, regardless of their background or identities, with a view to having the widest choice of good candidates.


Providing training for staff
Training needs to be given to staff so that employees can understand the importance and legal requirements for equality in the workplace, and the benefits of diversity. Staff need to know about protected characteristics, discrimination, appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and so on. Training can take place in several ways, for example:

  • induction sessions when employment commences
  • specific equality and diversity training sessions
  • ongoing training sessions
  • team meetings and briefings
  • one-to-one discussions and appraisals
  • distance learning courses
  • staff forums and discussion groups

Providing information for staff, customers and others
An organisation can also make equality and diversity information available to its workforce and customers to promote and publicise their equality policy as widely as possible. Promoting the policy is key to implementing it effectively and will help demonstrate that all reasonable steps have been taken to prevent discrimination.

Organisations can share information about equality and diversity policies and procedures in many ways, for example:

  • via email, social media, their intranet and website
  • circulars, letters or newsletters
  • in press releases to the media
  • in terms and conditions for contracts or sales
  • in annual reports

In addition to these methods of communication, staff might also find information:

  • within contracts of employment
  • in staff handbooks
  • in operations manuals and instructions
  • in job application packs, induction training packs and other training notes
  • in team meetings and briefings
  • on staff notice boards

Engaging in good practice
In line with the equality and diversity policies and procedures, the organisation needs to engage in good practices and make sure that everyone is following the guidelines. The management should have an action plan that makes sure that equality and diversity are part of all aspects of the organisation’s activities – e.g. during recruitment and training; in employment and HR issues; when dealing with customers, suppliers and others.


Having effective complaint and grievance procedures
When there are problems with equality and diversity, it is important to have effective procedures to deal with complains and grievances. If someone makes a complaint about discrimination, an organisation needs to have a robust, transparent and efficient way of handling the matter.

By dealing with complaints and grievances correctly and promptly, an organisation can:

  • be seen to be taking the matter seriously
  • minimise the chance of having to defend a case at an employment tribunal
  • take early action to correct the issue, to prevent further discrimination or misunderstandings
  • protect and maintain a good reputation
  • provide a better service for its customers, and encourage repeat business and referrals

When trying to establish and maintain a diverse workplace, there can be problems. Some of these can be remedied by the organisation and others will fall outside of its control and influence. The difficulties that arise due to external influences present some serious challenges to organisations who are trying to increase or maintain staff levels.

Problems could include:

A small local population that is not very diverse
An organisation that is located in an area where the population is small and not diverse may find the recruitment of under-represented groups difficult. Rural locations can have communities that may be small and not representative of the general or customer population.


The business may not appeal to individuals, due to their attitudes, beliefs and values
A lack of applications from a certain section of the community may not be due to unfair recruitment and selection processes operated by the organisation. Some jobs may conflict with individual values and beliefs. For example, if the work means being in contact with foods such as pork products, certain religions do not favour this.

Religion may mean that people have to dress in a certain way. For example, a Jewish woman may want to wear a shirt or blouse outside her skirt to avoid accentuating her body shape, or a Hindu man may want to wear neck beads. A dress code at work that does not allow staff to dress this way may be construed as discrimination, unless the employer can show there was a good reason – e.g. on health and safety grounds in a food factory.


A history of bad practice influences people’s views
Organisations that mistreat their workers or compromise their needs will find it hard to recruit. If the prospects of promotion within a company are poor, if there is limited staff training, or if there are inflexible working hours, people may think twice before applying to work there.

A history of discrimination against staff and previous discrimination lawsuits may create a picture to any potential employee of a hostile working environment, where people are undervalued. This could limit the number of job applicants and deter good candidates.


Resistance to change
There are always employees who will refuse to accept the fact that the social and cultural makeup of their workplace is changing. The ‘we’ve always done it this
way’ mentality silences new ideas and tries to slow progress. This can affect the implementation of policies for equality and diversity in the workplace, especially if an organisation is trying to update its procedures and practices.


Ineffective communication
Perceptual, cultural and language barriers need to be overcome for diversity activities to succeed. Ineffective communication about equality and diversity objectives and policies can lead to confusion, lack of teamwork and low morale. This can have a knock-on effect when the organisation tries to establish or maintain diversity in its workforce because their messages are not reaching the right people.

Organisations will usually have policies, procedures and training to help their staff treat colleagues and customers equally and fairly. The main themes are to encourage respect and integration, and to make it clear that discrimination is not tolerated.

As a member of staff, there are several things that employees can do to promote and maintain equality and diversity in their workplace, including:

  • following best practice in all aspects of their work
  • making it clear that discrimination will not be tolerated
  • reporting an incident immediately – probably to a supervisor or manager
  • recording and reporting all incidents in line with the organisation’s policies and procedures – maybe entering details on to a report or incident form
  • supporting and encouraging colleagues to challenge discrimination themselves
  • attending training on diversity, equality and inclusion

Employers may encourage employees to take part in ‘diversity days’, where people bring and try things from different cultures, so that they can learn about different customs, food, festivals etc. Events like this can help colleagues to get to know each other and to enjoy their differences in a relaxed and informal way.

In the customer service role, staff can do several things to promote and maintain equality and diversity at work. Staff can:

  • observe, understand and respect different dress codes and symbols – e.g. customers wearing a cross, hijab or turban
  • be respectful and aware of how different genders can be treated in other cultures – e.g. some cultures can seem quite sexist to us in the UK, with the husband making all of the decisions during a transaction, for instance
  • be sensitive to the person’s gender – e.g. female patients may prefer or insist on seeing a female doctor
  • be very discreet and allow privacy – e.g. in a changing room
  • learn about festivals and customs for other cultures – so that they understand the main points and can hold an informed conversation with the customer
  • be polite, courteous and friendly at all times
  • speak clearly and slowly, avoiding local sayings – especially if English is not the customer’s first language
  • repeat very clearly if requested – maybe using different words, gestures or a diagram to help the customer understand something
  • stay calm when they are not sure about how to handle the situation

If an organisation deals with customers from the same cultures all of the time, staff with a customer service role will soon learn about the details of the cultures. This will enable them to relax and engage with customers on a wide variety of subjects.

If staff find that they do not understand the cultural differences and do not know how to act, they should just stay calm and remain polite and courteous. They should not make assumptions about the customer’s needs and expectations, but politely ask the customer about what they can do to help.

The main objective is to treat every customer, colleague and work contact as an individual, with respect and patience, whatever their background or culture.

Once equality and diversity have become established in the workplace, organisations need to take measures to encourage and protect the good practices. This means being very clear about the standards that are expected, and monitoring all aspects of the organisation to make sure that the aims are being met.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018
The Data Protection Act and GDPR deal with the security of confidential personal information that is held by an organisation. When monitoring equality and diversity, organisations need to make sure that their data handling procedures comply with this regulation and protect the individual’s rights.

Personal data can include, for example:

  • financial details – e.g. bank account, credit referencing or credit card details • full names, addresses and dates of birth
  • CCTV footage and voice recordings
  • medical, pay and tax records
  • details of family, lifestyle or social circumstances
  • biometric data – e.g. fingerprints, eye scans

Principles of the GDPR
There are very strict guidelines about how personal information can be accessed, used and stored, and this information cannot be given to anyone who just asks for it. The GPDR states that personal data needs to be:

  • processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to individuals
  • collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes
  • adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary
  • accurate and up to date
  • kept in a form that permits identification of individuals for no longer than is necessary
  • processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security of personal data


The lawful basis for keeping and using records
Under the GDPR, organisations need to be specific about the lawful basis for keeping and using personal data before processing it. There are six lawful bases and at least one of these must apply when processing personal data:

  1. Consent – the individual gives clear consent for data to be processed for a specific purpose – e.g. agreeing that a company can stay in touch and send newsletters and offers; giving permission for data to be shared between an insurance company and the company doing the repairs. The individual controls the data and can change their mind about whether or not it can continue to be processed
  2. Contract – processing is necessary to fulfil a contract with the individual
  3. Legal obligation – processing is necessary to comply with the law
  4. Vital interests – to protect someone’s life
  5. Public task – to perform a task in the public interest or for official functions
  6. Legitimate interests – e.g. used by a charity for sending out unsolicited fundraising letters and calls; used by a bank when it checks a credit agency when considering a loan application; used by companies when recording telephone calls for training and quality purposes. The organisation takes responsibility for demonstrating that the data is in line with reasonable expectations and will not have an unwarranted impact on people

An individual’s rights
One of the main changes under the GDPR is that individuals have new rights about how their personal data is used and managed. Individuals have the following rights:

  • right to be informed – e.g. about how data is processed
  • right of access – e.g. the individual can ask for access to particular records held about them; organisations who hold records, such as credit card companies or landlord referencing services, need to provide information without delay
  • right to rectification – e.g. to correct, complete and update details held
  • right to erasure – also known as ‘the right to be forgotten’; individuals can ask for records to be deleted or removed where there is no compelling reason for their continued processing
  • right to restrict processing – individuals have a right to block or suppress processing of their data
  • right to data portability – individuals can move data from one authorised organisation to another without hindrance – e.g. when changing energy suppliers
  • right to object – individuals can object to how data is processed if it is inappropriate, and the organisation needs to prove its legitimate interests to continue
  • right not to be subjected to decisions based solely on automated processing – e.g. a mortgage application rejected by a computer needs to be checked by an authorised, competent advisor when making a lending decision

Organisations need to make sure that they have:

  • active agreement from individuals – implied consent is not valid, so organisations cannot use pre-ticked boxes or just assume that consent has been given; parental permission is needed to process online data until the person is 13 years old
  • a thorough record of consent – to trace the person’s consent on how their data can be used
  • procedures to allow the individual to withdraw consent easily and quickly – e.g. an accessible email address or telephone number for removing consent

Managing the data held
Organisations usually have privacy and data protection policies and procedures about collecting, retrieving, using, storing, archiving and deleting information. They will make sure that the procedures comply with the GDPR, so it is important to follow them, especially when handling personal or private information.

For example, a firm of independent mortgage advisors could have a data protection and privacy policy that covers:

  • collecting information – e.g. financial and personal details from customers in line with their consent; using approved forms, questionnaires or meeting notes; accessing credit reports from a credit reference agency in line with the organisation’s legitimate interests
  • retrieving information – e.g. using a traceable, password-controlled computer in the office but not a personal laptop
  • using information – e.g. for specific purposes only, in this case to process a mortgage application but not for marketing
  • storing information – e.g. backing up files on a hard drive that is locked away securely off site; locking paper files away in a fire-resistant filing cabinet; not allowing other customers or unauthorised people to see records
  • archiving information – e.g. off-site in a fully protected storage facility that specialises in sensitive data storage
  • deleting information – e.g. shredding (preferably cross-shredding that chops up the paper into small pieces so that strips of paper cannot be put back in order); using a secure disposal agency; destroying backed-up information on hard drives, flash drives or rewritable disks

Further information about the GDPR and data protection issues can be found on the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website.

Policies, codes of practice and guidance notes
Organisations will have various ways of setting out their standards and plans about how to protect equality and diversity. Detailed information can be included in an Equality Policy, an Equality and Diversity Policy, Codes of Conduct or within guidance notes. They will also have a Privacy and Data Protection policy to show procedures for handling personal data in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Equality and diversity policies
Policies will usually contain, for example:

  • a statement of the aim to encourage, value and maintain diversity
  • a commitment to provide equality for all
  • the areas of discrimination that will be acted upon (the protected characteristics)
  • details about who will take overall responsibility and who is covered by the policy
  • procedures for recruitment, selection and monitoring of staff
  • complaint and grievance procedures
  • harassment and bullying policies
  • monitoring, review and reporting processes

Other policies
Organisations may have separate policies that they mention in their equality and diversity policy. These could be, for example:

  • Bullying and harassment policy
  • Privacy and data protection policy – with procedures that comply with the GDPR
  • Diversity data policy – e.g. how information about employees and job applicants is treated and stored
  • Flexible working policy – e.g. the various options for part-time, shift work or job sharing
  • Reasonable adjustment policy – e.g. what an organisation deems to be a reasonable adjustment to their buildings or facilities
  • Fair access to work policy – e.g. setting out how work can be distributed when making work accessible to people with differing needs, abilities, experience and problems

Codes of conduct, or codes of practice
Some professional associations have codes of conduct for their members. Organisations can also have their own codes of conduct. These set out in detail exactly what people need to do in certain situations.

For example, a university may have a code of practice on harassment that sets out exactly what staff and students need to do when they are aware of, or suspect, harassment. It will cover subjects such as definitions, mediation, informal procedures, and advice and support.

When individuals or organisations are members of associations, they must follow the codes of conduct (or practice) to keep their membership.

Guidance notes
Alongside the formal rules laid down in policies and codes of conduct, there are usually notes for guidance as well. These are more detailed ‘user guides’ that give more information about each subject. They may give examples and scenarios so that people can compare their experience and find the right procedure for the situation.

An entry in a policy or code of conduct may tell the person what they must do to protect equality and diversity, but the guidance notes will explain why, and give examples to help to clarify and explain the relevant points.

Policies and codes need to be followed up with action plans, to make sure that the commitments and aims are put into practice. Monitoring is then needed, so that an organisation can examine how the policy and action plan are working.

Monitoring can be done in several ways, for example:

Following the action plan

An action should go into detail about what will be done, by when and by whom. The organisation will:

  • set dates for such things as monitoring, reviewing procedures, and training
  • expand on how these will be done and by whom
  • say how they will tackle problems, such as harassment or bullying
  • consider targets for action points that result from the monitoring data

The action plan will reveal points that require attention to help the organisation protect equality and diversity. The problems that come to light need to lead to action, for example:

  • increasing the number of management jobs open to job sharing to allow more people with young families to do them
  • interviewing more disabled people
  • changing the way jobs are advertised to attract more people from minority ethnic groups
  • considering whether positive action is appropriate

Using monitoring forms for existing staff

To make sure that the policy and action plan are working, organisations may opt to gather individual personal information on the diversity of their employees so that they can measure the data and check progress. Following the GDPR rules, they can prepare confidential forms for existing employees, and ask them to tick relevant boxes about their different identities.

The information collected will usually be based on the protected characteristics: age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.

Organisations need to explain why they are monitoring, communicate with their staff, provide a point of contact for queries and concerns, and reassure people about the strict confidentiality of the information.

Employees, trade union representatives and staff groups need to be closely involved with the monitoring process. Some may feel uncomfortable and select the ‘prefer not to say’ box on monitoring forms, however, organisations can reassure their staff that monitoring is only designed to make the equality policy a reality.

Once the data has been collected, the organisation needs to look at, for example:

  • who is promoted
  • who is trained, and in which areas
  • who has complaints and grievances
  • who is absent or sick, and for what reasons
  • who has been through the disciplinary procedures, and why

The data can be useful when analysing the recruitment and retention of staff, and planning human resources. The management of the data needs to comply with the GDPR.

Examining and analysing job application forms

Organisations need to monitor their recruitment processes. This helps to ensure that they are complying with equality legislation and that they are being as efficient as possible when looking for new employees.

Job application forms can be reviewed to see:

  • who applies for the jobs
  • who is interviewed
  • who is recruited

The data can be analysed and compared against, for example:

  • other groups of employees in the organisation
  • jobseekers in the local community
  • the broader national labour market
  • employment records of those who were recruited in recent months

When checking for legal compliance, organisations need to make comparisons between groups of recruits and applicants. If there is a significant difference or apparent inequality, they need to find out why, just to make sure that there is no illegal discrimination or bias.

When checking an application form for someone who was recruited a few months ago, the organisation can see if the selection processes have worked and led to the recruitment of the right person for the job.

Conducting Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs)

EIAs are a way of examining the effect that policies and services or products may have on the people who experience them. Assessments are based on evidence, which can be gathered from monitoring data, discussions and feedback from colleagues, customers and others. If monitoring shows that the policy and action plan are not working, an EIA can help to find the underlying problems.

EIAs examine:

  1. The purpose of a policy.
  2. How the purpose is to be achieved – this is where the evidence measures the effects of the policy.
  3. Who benefits and how – the evidence may show that some groups are not benefitting as expected.
  4. Associated aims attached to the policy – policies rarely work alone, so a marketing policy, for example, may have an influence on the equality policy.

The findings can be used by the organisation to stop what they are doing, adjust their policy or continue with the policy as it is. Results will usually be published, maybe in the annual reports.

Employees who breach policies, codes of conduct or guidelines

Organisations have sanctions that can be used when an employee breaches their equality and diversity policies, codes of conduct or guidelines. The law requires each individual to take responsibility for following these, and the rules are made very clear in contracts of employment, in training sessions and materials, in policies and procedures and so on.

If an individual fails to follow the guidelines laid down by the employer, the organisation can implement disciplinary action or claim breach of contract (the employment contract). The actions and procedures will be made clear in the contract and in the employer’s grievance, harassment and bullying policies.

For example, if one employee makes nasty comments to another employee about their speech impediment, they will have breached the equality and diversity policy and could be liable to disciplinary action. This will have been made clear in the employee’s work contract, during staff training and in the policies that can be viewed at work, maybe on the company’s website.

The managers will have procedures to follow when there is a breach of a policy or contract, and they need to take fair and swift action. Possible actions depend on the seriousness of the issue, and the number of breaches of the policies and employment contract. Examples of the possible actions include retraining, verbal warnings, written warnings and dismissal.

Organisations are required to make sure that good practices, procedures and policies are in place. They have to make sure that staff, trainees and job applicants are treated equally, with respect and dignity. They have to monitor the situation often, and take action if there is a problem. These requirements apply to the workplace and to the recruitment process, to make sure that everything is as fair as possible.

There can be many serious consequences for organisations who do not try to create and maintain an equal and diverse environment.

Legal consequences

If an organisation fails to create or maintain equality and diversity at work, or if they discriminate, people can make a claim to an employment tribunal. The tribunal is independent of government and will listen to all sides of the argument before making a decision, rather like a court. Examples of unlawful treatment claims heard by employment tribunals include:

  • unfair dismissal
  • discrimination
  • unfair deductions from pay

Before making a claim, people need to see if there is a way to solve the problem, maybe following the employer’s grievance procedure.

If this does not settle the complaint, the individual must tell the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) that they intend to make a claim to an employment tribunal. They will be offered the chance to try to settle the dispute by using Acas’s free Early Conciliation service.

If this fails, Acas will issue a certificate so that the claim can be made to an employment tribunal, online or by post. In a tribunal, the case will be heard by
a judge, normally held at the employment tribunal office closest to the relevant workplace. There is no fee for making a claim, although fees were charged in the past.

If the claim goes to full hearing, the tribunal process could then include, for example:

  • a preliminary hearing
  • arranging documents
  • organising witnesses
  • presenting the case at the hearing
  • getting a decision – e.g. to receive compensation and witness expenses; to improve working conditions; to give the job back if appropriate
  • the right to appeal if the employment tribunal has made a legal mistake

There are several consequences for organisations that could include, for example:

  • the costs of dealing with each claim, regardless of winning or losing the case – e.g. lawyers’ fees, time spent preparing the case for Acas and/or the tribunal
  • judges awarding compensation and witness expenses
  • paying damages or loss of earnings
  • maybe giving the claimant their job back – the tribunal does consider whether this is practicable before making an order for reinstatement
  • making a full disclosure of information relevant to the claim that may open up problems with the rest of the workforce
  • paying costs up to £20,000 to the other side if the case is misconceived or unreasonable

More information can be found on www.gov.uk or the Acas website: www.acas.org.uk

Economic or business consequences

Employers need all employees to perform well to maintain success. If the organisation does not try, or fails, to create and maintain equality and diversity in the workplace, the economic repercussions could include:

  • a bad reputation leading to a smaller selection of potential job applicants, reducing the chances to recruit the right person first time, every time
  • becoming an unpopular employer locally, regionally and nationally, thereby increasing the cost of recruitment due to bad retention rates
  • less effective use of human capital, lower workforce morale, increased staff turnover, sickness and absenteeism
  • a loss of goodwill in the community and a lower business profile
  • a failure to take advantage of links to a diverse range of customers
  • a reduced capacity of the workforce able to do business with all sections of the community
  • worse customer service, responding ineffectively to change in the marketplace and becoming an unpopular supplier
  • a failure to utilise untapped resources, including language skills and connections with export markets
  • legal compliance failure, with its associated costs of dealing with complaints and employment tribunals



Social or moral consequences

Equality and diversity practices focus on an inclusive society or organisation where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and where there is less conflict and insecurity. A society or organisation where diversity is celebrated encourages active participation and fosters community cohesion (community members sticking together). When this fails, there can be social and moral consequences.

Everyone should have a right to equal access to employment, where people should have equal pay for equal jobs, equal access to opportunity, training and development, and where selection is based on merit and qualifications. By not trying to embrace equality and diversity in the workplace, organisations could easily cause social and moral consequences, including:

  • wage discrimination and tension among the workers
  • the exclusion of certain groups of workers from training and career development – leading to a breakdown of work relationships and cooperation
  • stress and distress from open discrimination – leading to increased sick leave and absenteeism
  • bullying and harassment
  • a fast turnover of staff when people leave because they are unhappy – leading to a bad atmosphere for all
  • increased industrial and strike action – causing problems for the workers, their families and their communities
  • a lack of diversity of people from different backgrounds with different talents – leading to a weakened business that is more likely to fail and cause redundancies that would affect families and communities

As we have seen several times in this workbook, the Equality Act 2010 is the current legislation that deals with equality and discrimination. In this section we are going to look at rights and responsibilities in relation to equality and diversity, especially in the workplace.

An individual’s rights generally

The Act gives individuals rights as it is unlawful to discriminate against anyone because of a protected characteristic:

  • age – all aged over 18 are protected at work or in work training
  • disability – organisations must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate staff, customers and visitors with disabilities
  • sex – equal pay, training and opportunity for males and females gender reassignment – people transitioning from one sex to another
  • marriage or civil partnership – preventing discrimination on the grounds of being married or in a civil partnership at work or in work training
  • pregnancy or maternity (including breastfeeding) – only reasons of safety are not covered – e.g. equality may not be possible for pregnant women in some circumstances if the activity could harm them or the baby
  • race – wherever they were born, their parents’ and their own race and ethnicity are protected
  • religion or beliefs – any religion, lack of religion or personal belief is protected
  • sexual orientation – heterosexual, gay, lesbian and bisexual people are covered

Individuals are protected from discrimination in these situations:

  • in the workplace – during recruitment and employment – e.g. in care homes, offices, retail, factories, voluntary workplaces
  • in education – e.g. schools, colleges, training companies
  • as consumers – e.g. in shops, on the Internet, in cafes and restaurants, when buying or renting property
  • when using public services – e.g. healthcare, libraries, transport, councils, civil service
  • in clubs with more than 25 members – although the law does not stop clubs for people who share a protected characteristic, e.g. men-only or women-only clubs, or social clubs for Turkish people

Individuals are also protected from discrimination if:

  • they are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic – e.g. a family member or friend
  • they have complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim

As we have seen, unlawful discrimination by an employer can be dealt with by, for example:

  • approaching the employer and following their grievance procedure
  • approaching Acas or other conciliation services for advice
  • telling Acas if the individual is making a claim to an employment tribunal – to gain access to their free Early Conciliation service
  • an employment tribunal if the matter cannot be resolved out of court

If people have been discriminated against when buying or using goods or services, there are similar options. People can, for example:

  • communicate with the provider of the goods or services informally
  • follow their formal complaints procedure
  • complain to an Ombudsman, trade association or local Trading Standards department, if applicable
  • approach the EHRC for advice (Equality and Human Rights Commission)
  • try Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – trying mediation is usually expected by the courts
  • if all else fails, take the provider to court – the Crown Court in England and Wales, the Sheriff Court in Scotland

Further guidance can be found on the Citizens Advice website.

Employees need to make sure that they do not breach their employer’s equality and diversity policies, codes of conduct or guidelines. The law requires each individual to take responsibility and avoid discrimination, and the employer will give clear guidelines in contracts of employment, equality and diversity policies, training sessions and so on.

If an individual fails to follow the guidelines, the organisation can implement disciplinary action or claim breach of contract (the employment contract).

Aside from the legal issues, employees need to help their employer to promote and maintain equality and diversity in the workplace. This is for the benefit of all staff, customers, visitors and others who have contact with the organisation, and will help the employer to survive, thrive and be able to offer sustainable employment.

Employees have a responsibility to, for example:

  • be respectful, patient and polite to colleagues, customers and others
  • listen to people’s views and opinions
  • respect people’s differences and rights
  • not make assumptions about people
  • be aware if someone is having difficulties, and adapt what they are doing or saying if possible
  • see people as individuals rather than part of a group
  • not discriminate against people or use prejudicial behaviour or language report discriminatory behaviour
  • support people who are being discriminated against or harassed
  • attend training and events on diversity and equality

Employees who are aware of equality and diversity can adapt the ways in which they deal with individuals when there is a problem, maybe with communication or access. For example, they might:

  • speak more clearly and slowly for someone who has a hearing impairment
  • use different words to explain something to someone with language or hearing issues
  • use mime to act out the message
  • write clearly and use larger print for those with visual impairment
  • use pictures and diagrams where there might be a problem with literacy
  • be patient when dealing with people with learning disabilities
  • be aware of cultural issues and accommodate where possible and practical – e.g. if religious reasons do not allow men and women to mix
  • offer practical help if someone has mobility and access problems
  • deal with questions, requests and queries in a way that is suitable for the colleague, customer or other person – e.g. guiding someone to find something rather than just pointing the way

There are many things that organisations need to observe. For example, employers have a responsibility to:

  • avoid discriminating against employees, trainees and job applicants on the grounds of any of the protected characteristics
  • make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate staff, job applicants, trainees, customers and visitors with disabilities or impairments
  • make sure that discrimination is not tolerated, and take steps to deal with bullying, harassment, victimisation or other forms of discrimination in the workplace
  • give men and women equal pay and treatment in the terms and conditions of their employment contract if they are employed to do work that is the same, broadly similar or of equal value in terms of effort, skill or decision-making
  • train and monitor their workforce, and put in place policies and procedures for dealing with problems and complaints
  • make sure that all employees, customers, job applicants and visitors know where to find information about their equality policies and procedures
  • avoid asking job candidates about their health, age, absences due to pregnancy- related illnesses etc. during the application and interview processes – health questions can only be asked after a job offer has been made

Employers also have to avoid direct discrimination by association under the Equality Act 2010. This means that they cannot discriminate against someone who is associated with a person with a protected characteristic. For example, refusing to employ someone just because they have a partner with cancer, who is otherwise well suited for the job, would be illegal.

Direct discrimination by perception also needs to be avoided by employers. For example, if an employee looks much younger than they are and the employer does not let them represent the company (because people might consider them too inexperienced), this would be direct discrimination by perception of their age.

Employers can choose to appoint or promote candidates from particular groups and identities. However, there are differences between positive action and positive discrimination.

Positive action is legal.

Employers can choose candidates from under-represented groups, but they must be as qualified for the role as other applicants.

The Equality Act allows employers to take positive action if they think that employees or job applicants who share a particular protected characteristic suffer a disadvantage connected to that characteristic, or if their participation in an activity is disproportionately low. Employers can take a protected characteristic into consideration when deciding who to recruit or promote. However, they can only do this when they have candidates who are ‘as qualified as’ each other for a particular vacancy.

They do not have to have exactly the same qualifications as each other, but they must be equally capable of doing the job. The employer also needs some evidence to show that people with that characteristic face particular difficulties in the workplace, or are disproportionately under-represented in the workforce or in the particular job for which there is a vacancy.

In these circumstances, the employer can choose to use the fact that a candidate has a protected characteristic as a ‘tie-breaker’ when determining which one to appoint.

Positive discrimination is illegal.

Employers cannot give preferential treatment to applicants from under-represented or disadvantaged groups, regardless of their ability to do the job. They must be hired or promoted based on their ability to do the job.

Employers must not have a policy of automatically treating job applicants who share a protected characteristic more favourably in recruitment and promotion. This means that they must always consider the abilities, merits, and qualifications of all of the candidates in each recruitment or promotion exercise. Otherwise, their actions would be unlawful and discriminatory.

As we have seen in various sections of this workbook, it is important to make sure that equality and diversity procedures are followed in the workplace. It is all very well to have legislation, policies and training courses, but if the words are not put into action, they are meaningless.

Equality and diversity are about real life. They are an integral part of how we communicate and deal with each other. We all appreciate being given equal opportunities. We all appreciate being accepted for who we are. We all resent discrimination, and find it hurtful and destructive.

Equality and diversity procedures give clear guidelines about how to act so that we can all work together to eliminate, or at least reduce, discrimination. A diverse workforce, where individuals follow procedures and treat everyone with respect and tolerance, gathers great strength from:

  • participation
  • inclusion
  • a greater pool of knowledge, skills and experience
  • rich cultural experience, customs and traditions
  • new ideas from a wide cross-section of people
  • reduced prejudice and ignorance about other groups

When equality and diversity procedures are followed and become part of real life, there can be widespread benefits on many levels, for example:

  • for individual workers – who are happier at work due to feeling more valued, respected and included
  • for their families and friends – who benefit from knowing someone who is positive about their employer and colleagues
  • for the organisation – as it can enjoy better workforce relations, good recruitment and retention of staff, productivity and growth
  • for the local community – with its members being employed by an employer of choice who takes community matters seriously
  • for business, industry and the country as a whole – as the UK is able to attract international companies, workers, sales and contracts to help the economy and jobs to thrive, from having a reputation for being a tolerant and inclusive country

Here are some examples of organisations that provide support and information about the equality and diversity rights of individuals:

Public bodies

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)
The EASS is an advice service that is aimed at individuals who need expert advice and support on discrimination and human rights issues. They work with partners, such as Disability Rights UK, and can give advice and explain legal rights and processes.

Individuals might approach the EASS for advice about their legal rights because they have been:

  • made redundant due to age or disability
  • refused housing because of their race
  • treated differently because of pregnancy, maternity, religious views or sexual orientation

UK Government
On its website www.gov.uk the UK government provides a good starting point for researching equality and diversity. It has links with all government departments and agencies, and can guide individuals to a wide range of advice and information. The main helpline is via the EASS, but the website can lead to some very useful and relevant information notes, leaflets and PDFs.

Charities, community or voluntary groups

Age UK
Age UK is the UK’s largest charity working with and for older people. Some of the services they offer to individuals are connected with work and learning, including updating CVs, finding work, employment agencies, redundancy, training, discrimination and how the Equality Act impacts older people.

Individuals, especially those over 50, are able to approach Age UK for advice and information about many matters that are linked to equality and diversity. They have helplines and a comprehensive website that has links to other relevant organisations.


Citizens Advice Service
Individuals who require free, independent, confidential and impartial advice about their rights and responsibilities can approach the Citizens Advice Service in their Citizens Advice Bureaux. Any topic can be discussed. Advice is available in over 3,300 community locations in England and Wales.

Disability Rights UK
Run by disabled people, this organisation works to create a society where everyone with experience of disability or health conditions can participate equally as full citizens. Individuals can approach them for advice and guidance about support on careers and education, leadership skills programmes for disabled people, factsheets and links to other organisations and training courses.

Mencap is the voice of learning disability and they focus on valuing and supporting people with a learning disability. Individuals can approach them for help with finding a job or training for someone who has learning disabilities.


Pressure groups

Liberty (also called the National Council for Civil Liberties)
Individuals who need information about human rights can find the Liberty website useful. In some cases, where the legal case is of interest or concern to Liberty, they might provide legal assistance. The cases they take are usually test cases that could set a useful precedent for others.

Part of Liberty’s work is connected with lobbying and campaigning, and they are a well-respected pressure group who fight for human rights and civil liberties (personal guarantees for freedom that a government cannot stop or interrupt, such as free speech).

Although it is a registered charity, Stonewall is renowned for its campaigning and lobbying, and it works to achieve equality and justice for lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and transgender people.

Individuals who approach Stonewall for support and information are likely to be gay men, lesbians, bisexual or transgender people, or others who need more information about the LGBT community. Support services, include: publications on health or bullying; an information service for individuals; events that include community bar and theatre nights; access to arrange a speaker.


Representative groups

Acas is an independent, impartial and confidential service that is largely funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). It is devoted to preventing and resolving employment disputes.

Acas has a wide range of advice and guidance on its website that can be useful to individuals, especially with employment issues and rights. There is a helpline and Acas will advise individuals on all aspects of employment, including equality and diversity at work.


Trade unions, such as Unison, the Fire Brigades Union, Unite
Trade unions are fully geared up to help their members in all matters connected with employment, including equality and diversity. They generally have comprehensive websites and helplines for their members, and individuals could approach the unions that cover their work area. Membership would be needed to get full access to support services, but the websites have plenty of free information and advice.

Some unions are affiliated to the Trade Union Congress (TUC). The TUC calls itself the ‘voice of Britain at work’. It is a representative group that works with around 50 trade unions, looking after the interests of nearly 6 million working people from all walks
of life. It campaigns for fair deals at work, including matters to do with equality and diversity. Individuals can find out about different unions on the TUC website, and they can also access information about campaigns and lobbying.