Some things every employer should know about equality in the workplace

Becoming acquainted with equality laws and ensuring that your establishment can accommodate disabled workers may seem to be a hassle at first glance, if not expensive and challenging. However, as an employer, it is your duty to see that your workplace supports equality and diversity. By doing this, not only are you ensuring that legal requirements are met, but you are also laying the foundations for your company to benefit from these changes.

Why do you need an equal workforce?

If you think back to school days you will remember that at some point there was a class bully who terrorised weaker children. Kids who were different in some way by perhaps wearing glasses or speaking with a lisp, were most likely to have been teased. Often, they were called names and made to feel inferior to other children. Perhaps you were that child? If a child – or an adult – is constantly made to feel inferior, this will eventually affect their mental attitude.

By not being an equal and diverse workforce, you are no different from that bully, or those children who made fun of another. You are discriminating against another person. The Equality Act of 2010 states very clearly that no one should be discriminated against because of age, sexuality, gender, marital status, race and disability. It is your responsibility, as an employer, to make sure that you create a workplace where all employees are accepted as equals.

How will diversity benefit my workplace?

By employing people from different walks of life, your company will gain a new perspective into experiences which might then enhance your own vision. Should you only employ people who all talk, think and look alike, you may end up with a very uninteresting workplace, with no new ideas or different opinions on anything. If the only people you hire are white, middle-class males, you are limiting the experience of your workforce.

As retirement age increases, and women return to work after having their families, the job market has greater variety to offer. By hiring a diverse mixture of staff, you will only enhance your business. Along with that, you will gain the reputation of being a fair and non-discriminating employer.

How do you start?

Take care when placing advertisements. It is easy to be discriminatory in the wording. Make sure your job is open to all, unless there is a legitimate reason why it should not be. For example: if the job requires a certain level of skill, you should not require a school leave only.

Look at your building, and check that the doors are wide enough to allow a wheelchair to go through. You should have facilities which are suitable for a disabled person, such as ramps and wider toilet cubicles. Door handles and light switches need to be lower so that they can be easily reached.

Review your policies outlining how you support equality and diversity, and make sure that everyone of your staff has an up-to-date copy of them. It is also a good idea to arrange a staff training day to cover and discuss the subject. This will ensure that every member of staff knows where you stand, and no one will be able to say that they felt discriminated against.

Be careful when you promote a person. Make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons, and that you have selected the right person. Likewise, training, bonuses, and pay, should be equal across the board.

Simply because human nature is what it is, there will be cases of discrimination and perhaps bullying among your staff. Listen carefully to the person who is complaining to you, be respectful, do not take sides in front of them. Spend a quiet moment deciding how to handle the problem. Never dismiss the incident out of hand, remember that it has taken a lot of courage to speak to you, and the person deserves your attention. Resolve the problem as soon as you can. This will ensure that a happy environment is resumed. Do remember that if you choose to ignore a problem of discrimination, you may be liable to face legal action.

Moving forward

Remember that in your diverse workforce, there will be some staff members who have special needs such as those which are from a culturally different background. Some people may need to take time off for religious holidays. Both men and women are entitled to take paternity/maternity leave, and you should have substitutes ready for these times.

Once all these new ethics are in place, you will find that your workforce is made up of very talented and unique individuals, who are all able to contribute differently to your business.

It is your job, as the head, to lead the workforce, and you should be aware of the example you set. Although it may seem a hard challenge at first, in the long run, you will have a company that will look up to you and respect you for the good ethics and practises you uphold.


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