Positive action and recruitment

What is ‘positive action’?

‘Positive action’ means the steps that an employer can take to encourage people from groups with different needs or with a past track record of disadvantage or low participation to apply for jobs.

An employer can use positive action where they reasonably think (in other words, on the basis of some evidence) that:

  • people who share a protected characteristic suffer a disadvantage connected to that characteristic
  • people who share a protected characteristic have needs that are different from the needs of people who do not share it, or
  • participation in an activity by people who share a protected characteristic is disproportionately low.

Sometimes the reasons for taking action will overlap. For example, people sharing a protected characteristic may be at a disadvantage and that disadvantage may also give rise to a different need or may be reflected in their low level of participation in particular activities.

To deal with the three situations, an employer can take proportionate action to:

  • enable or encourage people to overcome or minimise disadvantage
  • meet different needs, or
  • enable or encourage participation.

In recruitment, equality law allows positive action before or at the application stage. At this stage, the steps could include encouraging particular groups to apply, or helping people with particular protected characteristics to perform to the best of their ability (for example, by giving them training or support not available to other applicants).

An example of when an employer might decide to take positive action is if they find that the make up of their workforce is different from the make up of their local population, so they decide to encourage people who share particular under-represented protected characteristics to apply for vacancies.

This is not the same as ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’ which equality law does not allow.

More information

Last Updated: 25 Jul 2010