Avoiding unlawful discrimination when you are offering training and development services

The next part of this guide gives you more detail about how you can avoid all the different types of unlawful discrimination in the following situations:

  • When you are offering training and development opportunities
  • When you are making decisions relating to promotion or transfer opportunities
  • Making sure disabled people do not miss out on training, development, promotion or transfer opportunities through unlawful discrimination
  • Voluntary positive action in training and promotion

Training is usually aimed at improving someone’s skills or knowledge or raising awareness of an issue, for example, of what equality law means for how workers behave towards one another.

As an employer, you can generally decide whether to offer training and, if you do offer it, who needs it. But if you do offer opportunities for training or development, you must do this without unlawful discrimination.  

Visit the Core guidance to make sure you know what equality law says you must do as an employer to avoid unlawful discrimination.

Training and development opportunities can be delivered in-house or by external providers. They can happen face-to-face, online, in groups or one-to-one. They can include the following:

  • learning ‘on the job’
  • coaching
  • e-learning
  • workshops
  • induction programmes 
  • job shadowing
  • mentoring
  • networking and seminars
  • formal classes on day release or out of working hours
  • project work
  • ‘buddying’
  • secondments and sabbaticals.

If you make assumptions on the basis of a person’s protected characteristics about their ability to take part in training or the benefits they will gain, this may lead to unlawful discrimination.

For example

Don’t assume that women are not interested in training or development because they have children and domestic responsibilities. If you act on this assumption, it would probably be direct discrimination because of sex.

If a worker is older, don’t assume that they will not want to continue to learn and develop. Or that younger workers will quickly move on and any investment in their training will be wasted.

Don’t make assumptions about disabled people’s ability to take part in training or the benefits they will gain. Discuss training with a disabled worker and find out whether they need reasonable adjustments to participate fully.

You may need to offer training flexibly or to make changes to the timing, style and location of training to avoid unlawful discrimination, particularly indirect discrimination (if you cannot objectively justify what you are doing) or a failure to make reasonable adjustments.

For example:

An employer only offers one chance to do a training course which is on a Friday in winter starting at 8.30am and finishing at 5.00pm, by which time it is dark. Unless the employer can objectively justify only offering this one chance on that particular day, this may be indirect discrimination against women (who are more likely to work flexibly) and Jewish people (who may need to have finished work before dark to observe the Sabbath).

An employer uses computer-based training. They should not assume everyone will be able to use a computer without checking this first. Some disabled workers may not be able to use a computer without reasonable adjustments.

An employer does not check that an external training venue is accessible to a worker who has a mobility impairment. When the worker, who uses two sticks to walk with, arrives, they cannot access the training room, which is up two flights of stairs with no lift. It is likely that offering the training at an accessible location would have been a reasonable adjustment.

Access to some opportunities, including training, may count as a benefit. This means they are treated in the same way as pay. You can read more about what this means in the Equality and Human Rights Commission guide: What equality law means for you as an employer: pay and benefits.

Training and development for women who are pregnant or on maternity leave

You must not deny a woman training opportunities because she is pregnant, on maternity leave or due to take maternity leave, or on pregnancy- or maternity-related sickness absence.

It would almost certainly be unlawful sex discrimination to deny a woman training for a reason related to her pregnancy (or impending maternity leave). An employer cannot try to justify this by saying they are protecting her from a health and safety risk, unless a specific risk has been identified. 

Good practice tip

Make sure you don’t make assumptions about who gets training opportunities.

Think about what your needs are in terms of the skills and knowledge of your workforce, not people’s protected characteristics.

Think about who needs to know what and what sort of training each worker needs.  

Equality good practice: what you can do if you want to do more than equality law requires

  • Think about what your needs are in terms of the skills and knowledge of your workforce. Some employers use one to one meetings or staff appraisals to do this. You could have a written policy to help you work out what you need and who should get what training.
  • Regularly review who you choose for training and other development opportunities to make sure your reasons are transparent, objective and justifiable.
  • To avoid ‘on the hoof’ decisions that may unlawfully discriminate against people because of their protected characteristics, work out in advance how you will deal consistently with competing requests, especially if your budget is limited. Make sure the decision relates to the job, not the person who is asking. Does the training the person is asking for support their current role or one they may be able to move on to?
  • If you’re in a larger organisation, make sure that everyone involved in making decisions about who is selected for training and development opportunities understands how to do this without discriminating unlawfully because of a protected characteristic.
  • Advertise training and other development opportunities as widely as possible throughout the organisation, and in a way which is accessible to everyone. For example, through notice boards, internal websites and circulars. Make it clear which roles the training is designed to support.
  • Encourage workers to apply for relevant training and other development opportunities, including women on maternity leave (providing the training does not occur during the leave or can be fitted into any agreed keeping in touch days) so that no one is overlooked.
  • Monitor the take-up of training and other development opportunities to ensure procedures operate consistently. Investigate any significant differences in take-up between different groups, and follow this up with action.
  • Obtain feedback on the delivery of training and development opportunities from staff. This will help them to find out if content and delivery are working for everyone.
  • Consider actively encouraging under-represented or disadvantaged groups to take up training and development opportunities through the use of voluntary positive action measures.
  • Whether or not it avoids unlawful discrimination, it is good practice to offer training flexibly, to enable as wide a range of people to participate as possible, and to make sure that the style, timing and location of the training you provide does not put anyone with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage.
  • If you bring in external training providers, make it clear that you expect them not to discriminate in the design or delivery of their services. 

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