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.

More information

Last Updated: 21 Jan 2015