Equal Opportunities at Work, Promoting Diversity: Employment Policy

employees application form

Employee diversity attracts a broader market and improves team problem solving skills through a wider field of interests, (and therefore) skills, knowledge and viewpoints. Enforcing equal opportunities at work, to promote diversity, also encourages a happier, more motivated workforce, leading to improved brand value, productivity and recruitment prospects.

‘Equal opportunities at work’ is achieved by considerate (non-discriminatory) policies governing all employment processes from recruitment to redundancy. Combating discrimination in Employment Policy is not just good practice; it is also against the law to discriminate against anyone due to a protected characteristic.

Protected Characteristics by Law (The Equality Act 2010)

It is against the law to:

  • Directly discriminate against (treat less favourably, unless objectively justified) anyone due to a protected characteristic; actual or perceived – age, race, religion, belief, disability, sex, gender reassignment or sexual orientation, or pregnancy, maternity, marriage or civil partnership (but not being single).
  • Directly discriminate against anyone due to age, race, religion, belief, disability, sex, gender reassignment or sexual orientation of someone they are associated with.
  • Indirectly discriminate against (have a policy that may apply to everyone but treats less favourably, unless objectively justified) anyone due to age, race, religion, belief, disability, sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, marriage or civil partnership (but not being single).

Understanding ‘Objectively Justified’

Objective justification for treating someone differently due to a protected characteristic occurs only if there is a legitimate aim and there is no other reasonable action that can achieve that aim. Reasonable actions include adjustments to working arrangements (e.g. providing flexible working hours) or physically to the workplace (e.g. replacing steps with ramps or providing adapted equipment). Some objective justification examples follow:

  • Age: If you intend the employee to sell alcohol unsupervised, it is objectively justified to consider for hire only those over 18 years of age, as it would be illegal to do otherwise. Note: Limiting the age of applicants for the aim of employing a more dynamic or more mature person would be discriminatory.
  • Sex: If you intend the employee to attend a female changing room, possibly in view of ladies changing, it is objectively justified to consider for hire only females as the customers could feel uncomfortable otherwise. Note: Only hiring a certain sexual orientation to avoid possible customer discomfort would be discriminatory.
  • Disability: It is objectively justified to consider for hire only those capable of handling heavy goods if the job requires a lot of heavy manual handling. Note: Disabilities that do not affect abilities intrinsic to the job cannot be used to treat the prospective or current employee less favourably.
  • Positive action: It is lawful to encourage application of people due to a protected characteristic if they are currently disproportionately under-represented in your workforce or that role; however the advertising and hiring process should not exclude people due to not having that specific protected characteristic.

As you can see, cases of objective justification are very narrow. As each case brought to court or tribunal are strictly interpreted on an individual basis; if there is any doubt whether you have objective justification for differential treatment of anyone due to a protected characteristic, seeking professional advice is advised.

Employment Policies and Processes: Recruitment to Redundancy

Now to the specific processes of employment policy: Below runs through some of the important information that should be considered when reviewing or writing company employment policy to avoid discrimination and promote equal opportunities from recruitment to firing; advertising, interviews, hiring, wages, training and redundancies.

Recruitment Advertising

  • Language for Job descriptions – requirements and role names: In all recruitment advertising, language should be chosen very carefully. Protected characteristic specific words (e.g. handyman or junior executive) are easy to eliminate to avoid discrimination but descriptors which can imply discrimination should also be avoided (e.g. mature or dynamic that may portray discrimination against younger or the older applicants respectively).
  • Advert Accessibility: A broad range of advertising media should be used to ensure non-discriminatory access. For examples, unless objectively justified, placing adverts only in Christian publications would discriminate access due to religion or using only visual advertisements would discriminate access due to disability.

Application and Interview Arrangements

  • Requested Details and Diversity Forms: Collected details of protected characteristics that are not objectively justified should either be discontinued or kept anonymous and separate to the main application for diversity evaluation only (e.g. on a separate diversity form kept by the HR department). Unnecessary requests for dates and periods should be avoided to reduce the chance of discrimination due to perceived age. Where UK qualifications are required, overseas equivalents should be openly accepted so as not to discriminate due to race.
  • Adaptability: The application process should allow applicants to request reasonable adjustment to the interview process to allow for a disability, where possible reasonable requirements should be met but not used to treat that candidate less favourably, to avoid discrimination due to disability. Accessibility and usability of the application itself should also be considered with regard to different disabilities.

Selection Process for Hiring, Promotion, Training and Learning Opportunities

  • Positive Action:Selection of a candidate for hiring, promotion, training and learning opportunities may take into consideration any protected characteristic that the company can prove is disproportionately under-represented by the company’s current workforce, or in the role being assigned. However, this positive action may only be used as a tie-breaker for equally top contenders for a position and not in any other part of the selection process.

Equal Pay, Terms and Conditions

  • Equality: A company should give equal pay, terms and conditions for jobs that are either the same, broadly similar, or of equal or similar value. It is up to the company to provide objective justification evidence for any differences.
  • Complaints: A complaint about wage difference can be taken to tribunal up to six months (or to civil court up to six years) after an employment has ended and the claim can include up to six years of back pay (including sick pay, holiday pay, overtime etc.).
  • Pay secrecy: It is unlawful to restrict employee discussion about possible pay differences but an employer can require that employees do not share their pay rates with people outside the company.

Redundancies

  • A protected characteristic cannot be used as criteria for selecting employees for redundancy. Criteria for redundancy selection may have to be adjusted to ensure that certain protected characteristics are not discriminated against by proxy. For example, if absence and sick leave is being used, absence due to a known disability should not be included to avoid discrimination due to disability.

Action, Results and Review

It is easy to forget that the job of promoting diversity and equal opportunities is not finished at just writing the employment policy and processes. The policies and processes cannot just sit hidden in a book on a shelf; the circle of effective ‘communication/training, action and auditing’ needs to be implemented.

Necessary employees need to be effectively trained/told about changes to action them appropriately. The policy and processes should be audited regularly: Are policies being followed? Is equal pay being achieved? Is the company promoting diversity and equal opportunities? Etc. Audits may lead to policy/process improvement or retraining of specific staff, or may prove that the set up is currently working. Appropriate actions indicated by the audit should be made and the chain starts again with communication/training of necessary staff about any amendments and communication of the results achieved by the company. A factsheet to come soon will cover this ‘change management’ in more detail.

Social Networking and Social Media: What does it mean for business?

social networking; collaboration, communication, fun, friendship and business or addiction, scams, harrasment, waste of time, and identity theft

– Facebook – YouTube – Twitter – Linked In – Google+ – Flikr – Digg –

Social networking and social media effects business from two angles:

  • 1) NEGATIVES: The impact on businesses where employees have access to social networking and social media during work hours
  • 2) POSITIVES: The new opportunities available for all businesses for improved/cheaper communication and marketing strategy

NEGATIVES: The impact on businesses where employees have access to social networking and social media during work hours

Any employee with access to the internet has access to social media and social networking. Below summarises the main concerns surrounding this and the important questions to be considered.

Procrastination

Undetected skiving has never been easier; social networking and social media puts a plethora of addictive gaming, must-see video clips and gossip at the click of a button and can quickly be minimised when the manager passes (or put in a pocket if using a phone). Should access to the most popular websites be removed from work-stations, or a policy issued to ban all use of social networking and social media, or should it be left up the individual employees to decide what is the right and wrong levels of use?

Knock-on Lowered Morale

Either not taking action against procrastination that leads to increased workload for other employees, or overly restricting the use of social media and social networking can cause resentment from employees and lowered morale. What is a reasonable level of use for social media during work time? Should productivity be monitored to ensure work activities are not taking a back seat? When and what is appropriate action against social networking and social media use?

Bullying/Discrimination

While most employees may be certain how not to act face-to-face or even over the phone to not discriminate or bully, over the internet the line seems to be blurred for some people. Also, it may be important to keep in mind that “an employee may not always be aware they are being bullied. For example, an employee may not see comments posted about them on social networking sites or blogs.” (ACAS). Should your bullying/discrimination policy be extended to include what is unacceptable behaviour on the internet?

Health and Safety

Some employees may be setting themselves up for injury by checking into their social network or watching social media for a break from work instead of stepping away from their consoles. Should management proactively encourage breaks away from the computer to ensure regular rests away from consoles?

Office Networks: Security Threat

Some not so scrupulous people use social networking and media to spread their homemade viruses and malware; less tech savvy members of staff could easily infect their worktops and other networked computers with malicious code while browsing. Should employees be provided with basic training on avoiding downloading viruses and malware? What is suitable virus and malware protection and how often does it need updating? How often should regular backups be made of local and system data in case of infection?

POSITIVES: The new opportunities available for all businesses for improved/cheaper communication and marketing strategy

Social networking and social media provide a gateway to a large portion of the public and also provides free communication tools which, if used with care may reduce company costs, improve flexibility and improve productivity. The following paragraphs elaborate on this.

Company Communication

Social networking tools provide free and quick communication avenues for exchanging messages with employees worldwide. Email, tweeting, instant messaging and more are all at the tips of your fingers giving a new level of flexibility as to the how, when and where employees can communicate with each other. Blogging or posting podcasts to keep employees and customers up to date with policy changes, and closely monitoring feedback comments and questions, allows any issues to be dealt with quickly and effectively, aiding the smooth transition of company improvements.

Collaboration and Co-operation

Private networking can be used for internal meetings and conferencing and to centralise information, improving real-time collaboration and flexibility of information access across a company. Similarly social networking can be used to keep up with industry information and conferences, linking with other professionals with similar goals to encourage co-operation and collaboration across companies, helping to share and build on innovations as they appear in your field.

Public Connection

  • 80% of houses receive internet,
  • 40% of adults have mobile internet
  • 2/3 of adults with the internet use facebook – one of the many social media/networking platforms (OFCOM)

Based on these figures it is not surprising that businesses are increasingly using social media and social networking as their ‘marketing face’, as the gateway to a large portion of the population for recruitment, product advertising and brand marketing strategies. Using social media and social networking for direct communication to potential employees and customers cuts out the middle men (advertising and recruitment agencies) and in turn cuts down the bureaucracy, time and money involved.

It is however, important to remember that there are still many people that are not actively using social media and social networking and so to ensure that recruitment is not discriminatory and that marketing reaches a larger cross section of the population other routes would still need to be considered.

Focus on Social Media

Social media can be used to promote achievements, special offers or services of a company. Hearing about a company from individuals is much stronger than hearing about it from the company itself, especially as an individual can create a connection with other individuals. In the world of social media, it doesn’t take a team of advertising specialists to provide a boost to your company branding, just enthusiastic employees wishing to share their positive experiences of your company with others. Rather than monitoring employees to check they aren’t posting social media that could hurt your company brand, it may be productive to give incentives for positive promotion of your brand and innovative ideas of advertising products and services of your company.

Focusing on Social Networking

Engaging with and making a connection with potential employees could be the difference between them taking the job or turning it down in preference of another. Proactively connecting with candidates through social networking sites could give you that all important edge for getting the best picks. Encouraging current, potential and soon to be former employees to connect to your company through social networking allows them to stay linked with the individuals within the company encouraging continued brand loyalty. This link can also serve as a communication line to share positive branding messages with the public such as notification of company awards or special recognition received or any other positive messages.

Have your say on what you think social media and social networking means to business… Do you think it is something that really needs protecting against, is it worthwhile to spend time embracing it, or do we need to do a bit of both?

Factsheet: HR – Social Networking and Social Media: What does it mean for business?
This information is provided for reference only – no liability accepted. All registered trademarks recognised. E&OE.