Equal opportunities policy template and guidance for SMEs

Posted on January 24, 2022
Posted by Frankie Mundy

equal opportunities policyAn equal opportunities policy is an internal policy document setting out your business’s commitment to equal opportunities in the workplace and how it will comply with its duty to prevent discrimination. Use our template to create a customised equal opportunities policy for your business, or to create your policy as part of a full staff handbook. 

Equal opportunities policy

Why does my business need an equal opportunities policy?

You are under a legal obligation not to discriminate against, harass or victimise staff members on the basis of their age, sex, race, disability, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, or religion or belief. This obligation also extends to how your staff treat your clients or customers, so you should ensure that your staff members know how to behave accordingly.

The best way to achieve both these aims is to have a good equal opportunities and anti-bullying and harassment policy before you take any staff on, and to provide your staff with training on their obligations once they arrive.

If you have a policy in place, you must make sure you abide by it.

There are other HR policies which are either legally required or which are strongly recommended for the smooth running of your business. Our Q&A on HR policies will provide you with further guidance. 


What should my equal opportunities policy say?

Your equal opportunities policy should set out your business’s commitment to equal opportunities and non-discriminatory practices both during a recruitment exercise and throughout the employment relationship. Your policy should also set out what action will be taken if any of your staff breach the policy. 

Do not promise anything in your policy that you will not or cannot deliver as this damages your case if ever a discrimination claim is brought and it can be shown that you have not followed your own procedure. 


How do I write an equal opportunities policy?

You can find a template equal opportunities policy in our Staff handbook and policies, which you can customise to your business. You can create the policy either on its own or as part of a full staff handbook, just select the appropriate option when you start the questionnaire. 



Equal opportunities in the workplace

How do I ensure equal opportunities during a recruitment exercise?

You should ensure that all people who are involved in a recruitment exercise are familiar with your equal opportunities policy. It is important that all applications are assessed in the same way and that a shortlist of candidates is drawn up objectively, fairly and by applying the same application criteria consistently to all applicants. Ideally more than one person should be involved in the decisions at each stage, and a marking system for applications should be agreed in advance. Interviewers must understand that there are a number of characteristics which cannot be taken into consideration when assessing applicants, as to do is discriminatory and so illegal. These are:

  • Disability
  • Age
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership status
  • Pregnancy and maternity 
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex and sexual orientation 


For further guidance about how to avoid discrimination during a recruitment exercise, see our Q&A on Hiring staff


What do I need to do to make sure I am giving equal opportunities to my staff when I offer incentives?

If you choose to offer incentives to your staff, you must ensure that you act consistently, fairly and without discrimination against any staff. For example, if you offer a bonus for hours worked, you must ensure that you pro-rate the targets for part-time employees, otherwise you could face a claim that you have discriminated against an employee because of their part-time status or that you have indirectly discriminated against your female employees (because women are statistically more likely to work part-time than men). 

You must have a clear and objective rationale for why certain staff have been given incentives and why you have awarded them the level of incentive that you have. For example, you could decide that any staff with an outstanding rating will receive a 2% pay rise, any staff with a competent rating will receive a 1% pay rise and other staff will not receive any pay rise. You should also document your incentive decisions and the reasons for them. This information will be invaluable if your decisions are ever challenged as being unfair or discriminatory. 

Finally, you should moderate your performance management decisions to ensure that you are treating employees in a fair way across your business. 


How do I make sure I don’t discriminate when offering development opportunities to my staff?

You must be careful not to discriminate against your employees when offering development opportunities. For example, if you only offer networking opportunities outside of working hours, this could amount to indirect sex discrimination against your female employees given that women statistically have greater childcare responsibilities than men. 

You may also want to put in place mentoring programmes to provide employees with senior role models within your business. You should ensure that any such programmes are run transparently, with clear and recognisable aims, and that your employees are provided with equal access to them. Monitoring the take up of any development opportunities that you offer will enable you to ensure that you are supporting the progression of all of your staff members and will allow you to address any obstructions that you identify. 


How do I make sure I am acting fairly when deciding upon staff promotions?

When deciding on internal promotions, you must be careful not to discriminate against staff members. If you do, you could face a legal claim for discrimination and may have to pay compensation to your staff member. 

To avoid this, take into account the following:

  • It will be more difficult for you to prove that a promotion was not discriminatory if it was done on an informal basis as opposed to following a formal internal process. It is therefore best to advertise promotion opportunities to all your staff and use a formal promotion procedure to make your decision.  
  • You must have a non-discriminatory reason for promoting the staff member above others (such as their excellent performance) and must not take irrelevant factors into consideration (eg because you consider another staff member to be too young to take on more responsibility). You could face a discrimination claim if you promote a member of staff who is less qualified, or who has not performed to the same standard of another member of staff who is, for example, of a different race or age.
  • You should take care not to exclude staff with flexible working arrangements for promotion as this could be considered indirect sex discrimination (eg if the reason they require flexible working is to accommodate childcare arrangements). If the promotion requires a certain qualification you must take care that this does not discriminate against any particular group, for example because they are too close to retirement to have time to obtain the qualification (age discrimination). 
  • You should conduct your promotion process in such a way that it does not discriminate against those with disabilities or other learning difficulties. You may need to make reasonable adjustments in such cases, for example by allowing a staff member with dyslexia extra time to complete a test or calling them to interview instead of requiring them to complete a written application. 


How do I ensure that I am acting fairly when operating my staff bonus scheme?

You must ensure that any bonus scheme you offer is applied in a fair and non-discriminatory manner. You must not exclude or otherwise disadvantage staff on the basis of a protected characteristic (eg their age, race, religion, sex etc). 

You can decide that only certain categories of staff will participate in a bonus scheme, so long as this is not discriminatory. For example, bear in mind the following:

  • You might introduce a performance-related bonus scheme just for your sales team. However, excluding staff with a certain level of sickness absence from the bonus scheme could be discriminatory, for example, to staff who are pregnant or who have a disability. 
  • Fixed-term and part-time employees or workers should usually receive bonuses comparable with those of permanent employees and workers who are working in broadly similar roles, pro-rated as appropriate. 
  • You must make sure your bonus scheme complies with equal pay and discrimination law; a woman who does equal work with a man working for you is entitled to the same contractual bonus (although equal pay law does not apply to purely discretionary bonuses, paying a woman a lower discretionary bonus than a man in the same employment is likely to be sex discrimination in any event). See our Q&A on Staff pay for further information about the rules on equal pay. 

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