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Equal Opportunities in the Workplace

Equal Opportunities in the Workplace

It's vital that you avoid discriminating when you come to recruit staff.

Not only is it against the law but by putting every applicant on an equal footing you stand more chance of getting an employee who is perfect for the job.

As the owner of a small business, you are liable for any discriminatory action brought about by your employees.

And an individual can take you to an employment tribunal even if they're not an employee - if they think they weren't given a job because of discriminatory practices.

Third-party publishers, such as newspapers, are also liable if they publish discriminatory advertisements.

It is against the law to discriminate against someone based on their sex, sexual orientation, marriage status, race, colour, nationality, ethnic origin, religion, or because of a disability, pregnancy or being part of a trade union. It's also illegal to discriminate against part-time workers.

Since October 2006 it has been unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of age and in April 2007 the Gender Equality Duty comes into force. This means that all firms must demonstrate that they are promoting equality for women and men and that they are eliminating sexual discrimination and harassment.

Job adverts

The first instance where you will need to be careful is when you write a job description and then advertise it.

When you detail the job specification, you should state clearly what tasks the person will have to do and what skills they will need to do the job. Avoid stating any requirements that are not directly related to the job such as the candidate's marital status or race. If you opt for an application form then ask for as few personal details as possible.

However, you are allowed to ask if the applicant has a disability as this would need to be considered when they visit you for interview.

In the same way that job advertisements may not ask for a particular race or gender, the new age discrimination law means that phrases such as 'young and dynamic' or 'minimum of ten years' experience' are now also illegal.

When you come to interview your candidates then certain questions are strictly banned. You can't ask, either directly or indirectly, whether someone is married, gay or plans to have children. Nor can you try to elicit information about a candidate's religion or sexual orientation.

To bolster your status as a fair employer you can take steps to become an equal opportunities employer. You can implement an equal opportunities policy into your business, set an action plan with targets, provide training for staff, review your recruitment process on a regular basis, draw up justifiable job criteria, offer pre-employment training and consider offering flexible working hours, which would benefit working parents, for instance. You could also develop links with local community groups, organisations and schools to reach a more diverse pool of applicants.

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