How To Tackle Discrimination And Promote Equality

This section explains what you can do to promote a more equal workplace, and be confident that you are complying with legislation.

For individual advice as to how your business can take these steps, we would recommend that you contact a solicitor specialising in employment law, or a professional human resources advisor or consultant.

The former equality commissions produced statutory codes of practice covering many aspects of the topics discussed in this section. Statutory codes of practice have been approved by parliament, and can be taken into account by employment tribunals.

Review your current position

The starting point for any effort to promote equality in the workplace is to assess what you are doing already and look for areas where you can improve.

This might include:

  • carrying out an equality audit or equal pay review of your organisation – use your audit as a basis for ongoing monitoring

  • investigating the possibility of more flexible work patterns

  • looking for examples of good practice in other organisations

  • talking to staff representatives such as unions about where improvements could be made

  • checking that you use clear and justifiable job criteria that are demonstrably objective and job-related.

More detailed guidance on all areas of equal pay.

Develop an equality policy and action plan

Equality policy

An equality policy states your organisation’s attitude to rights and equality in the workplace. By drawing up an official policy you are making a commitment to rights and equality that you can be held accountable for.

An effective policy:

  • states your values and how you intend to put them into practice

  • shows people you are serious about fairness in the workplace

  • helps people understand how they are expected to behave and what they can expect of your organisation

  • helps to win new customers, especially from the public sector (who have a statutory duty to promote equality) and other large organisations

  • supports your action plan.

Find out more by looking at the sample equal opportunities policy produced by the former Commission for Racial Equality. The sample policy is included as Appendix 2 of the Statutory Code of Practice on Racial Equality in Employment.(Pdf)

Action plan

Your action plan takes the goals of your equality policy and specifies:

  • what will be done to achieve these goals

  • which senior person is responsible for each action

  • deadlines and targets for achieving the goals

  • how breaches of the policy will be tackled and rectified

  • how success or failure will be measured

  • how, and how often, progress will be reviewed.

A good action plan makes sure that your equality policy’s goals are translated into real changes and improvements in your working practice.

You should make sure that all your employees are familiar with the policy and action plan, and how these will affect their work. This is particularly important for:

  • senior staff who are responsible for carrying out your action plan

  • staff involved in recruitment, appraisal and training.

Develop an equality policy and action plan: further information

Read detailed guidance and see an example equality policy (ACAS).

Promote equality and good employment practice


Start programmes that actively encourage job applications from communities and groups that are under-represented in your organisation.

Make sure job specifications don’t indirectly discriminate against certain groups of people (see Types of discrimination for an explanation of direct and indirect discrimination).

When arranging interviews, ask candidates if they have any specific requirements (for example, wheelchair access) and make necessary reasonable adjustments in advance.

Make sure that people with disabilities are given the right conditions to do tests and take part in other selection processes.

Concentrate on abilities to do the job during interview and only ask about a disability if it has a bearing on the person’s ability to work.

Consider modifications to job qualifications or requirements that would disqualify disabled candidates who would otherwise perform the job well.

To help you reach a wider pool of applicants, develop local links with community groups, schools and support organisations.

General employment practices

Provide training, development and guidance to employees and subcontractors to develop understanding about how unfair discrimination occurs and how it can be avoided.

Explain the concepts of reasonable adjustment and justifiable discrimination and the importance of flexibility in working practices and general policies. See ‘When discrimination is not unlawful’ for more information on justifiable discrimination.

Make sure everyone who works for you – especially line managers – knows what their personal responsibilities are. Make sure everyone understands that they are personally liable if they participate in discriminatory behaviour.

Flexible working and adjustments

Consider flexible working, career breaks, providing childcare facilities, and so on, to help women and men meet domestic responsibilities and pursue their occupations; and consider providing special equipment and assistance to make sure that disabled people are given sufficient support.

Specific guidance

The former Commission for Racial Equality  (CRE). Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and Disability Rights Commission produced statutory codes of practice, many of which apply to employers - see Codes of Practice

ACAS: Religion or belief and the workplace: a guide for employers and employees (Pdf)

ACAS: Age and the workplace: a guide for employers (Pdf)

ACAS: Sexual orientation and the workplace: a guide for employers and employees (Pdf)

ACAS guidance: Delivering equality and diversity

Guidance for small businesses (SMEs)

We are developing a series of guides aimed at small businesses on a range of topics - see Here for Business.

Guidance on managing specific issues in the workplace

We have developed online toolkits for employers on:

Guidance from the Refugee Council - employing refugees
We have worked with the Refugee Council to produce guidance on employing refugees. The guidance, aimed at employers, explains which documents can provide evidence of entitlement to work.

Download: Employing refugees (Pdf)     Employing Refugees (Word)

Guidance on managing sexual harassment

In 2006 the EOC produced detailed good practice guidance for employers and managers on how to manage sexual harassment within the workplace.  Download: Sexual Harassment: Managers' Questions Answered (Pdf)

Equality training

You should provide training for managers, and perhaps for the workforce as a whole, to make sure they understand the importance of equality and how your policy and action plan will affect their work.

Provide extra training for the people who recruit, select and train your employees.

It might be appropriate to offer pre-employment training for some jobs, to prepare applicants for selection tests and interviews.

You should also consider positive action training to help employees from groups to apply for jobs in work areas and localities where they are under-represented.

Providing training can form part of your action plan.

Find out about relevant courses from Acas.

Find out about relevant courses from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Deal properly with complaints and grievances

Making sure that complaints and grievances about discrimination are properly handled is central to good practice in equality.

Dealing with complaints quickly and carefully saves time and money in the long run. Many complaints end up in court because of avoidable mistakes earlier in the process, such as a badly handled interview or insensitive treatment of the original grievance.

Your complaints procedure

Don’t wait for a complaint to be made before developing a complaints procedure. You should make sure that all your staff are familiar with the procedure – through training or induction – and it should include details of:

  • what a person should do if they experience discrimination

  • how complaints will be investigated

  • how long investigations are expected to take.

Your procedure for investigating complaints needs to be linked to disciplinary codes and procedures, so that justified complaints can be acted on.

If the outcome of your complaints procedure does not satisfy the complainant, they can raise a case with an employment tribunal. If this happens, you will have to:

  • explain your policy and how it is implemented

  • show all the relevant documentation

  • explain how the individual complaint has been investigated.

Read guidance from Acas on developing disciplinary and grievance procedures (Pdf)

Conciliation and statutory dispute resolution

You should always try to resolve a complaint or grievance by talking it over with the people involved. Employment tribunals should always be a last resort: disputes can very often be resolved through conciliation or mediation, either internally or by using an external service such as Acas.

Consider providing training for managers on handling the difficult early stages of a dispute. You might also consider training your own internal mediators. Acas offers a range of training courses in mediation and dispute resolution.

Monitor progress and encourage continuous improvement

As an employer it is crucial that you monitor progress against your action plan and take action if targets are not being met.

Take your action plan seriously: see that progress is reviewed regularly by senior staff.

Recognise and reward good practice in equality and diversity. Highlight good examples in internal communications like staff newsletters, and develop an appropriate reward scheme for the people involved.

Monitoring your progress against diversity targets can be a sensitive issue. For more information follow the links. 

Last Updated: 04 Jun 2009