Training and development opportunities

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.

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

Use the list in avoiding direct and indirect discrimination to make sure you know what equality law says your employer must do 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 your employer makes assumptions on the basis of your protected characteristics about your ability to take part in training or the benefits you will gain, this may lead to unlawful discrimination.

For example:

  • An employer must not assume that women are not interested in training or development because they have children and domestic responsibilities. If an employer acted on this assumption, it would probably be direct discrimination because of sex.
  • If a worker is older, an employer must not 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.
  • An employer must not make assumptions about disabled people’s ability to take part in training or the benefits they will gain. They should discuss training with a disabled worker and find out whether they need reasonable adjustments to participate fully. 

Your employer 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 they 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: Your rights to equality at work: pay and benefits.

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

Your employer must not stop you doing training because you are 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 you training for a reason related to your pregnancy (or impending maternity leave).

Your employer cannot try to justify this by saying they are protecting you from a health and safety risk, unless a specific risk has been identified.

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