Equal Opportunities at Work

The term “equal opportunities” is a broadly used phrase which promotes the idea that everyone within an organisation should have an equal chance to apply and be selected for posts, to be trained and/or promoted and to have their employment terminated equally and fairly. There should be no Discrimination on the grounds of sex, homosexuality, age, racial origin, religious affiliation, disability or marital status.

Employers can only discriminate on the grounds of ability, experience or potential and all employment decisions taken on an individual’s ability to do a particular job.

Organisations and businesses consist of many individuals working together to achieve organisational success. These individuals collectively bring different attitudes, perceptions and learning experiences to the workplace, as well as ethnic, gender and personality differences. Over the past 30 years, the workplace has changed dramatically. Women have become more empowered giving them the opportunity to seek career progression which had previously been denied to them. Disabled people who can work are being helped back to work and offered the same opportunities as able-bodied people and economic globalisation of business has meant that managers must be aware of cultural and race issues.

When the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) was set up, it was to tackle the issue of Gender Discrimination predominantly and to offer women the same working rights as their male counterparts. However, in modern day society, equal opportunities has been broadened and backed up by law to provide the same level of protection to other minority groups in the workforce. So today, we have a Race Relations Policy, a Disability Discrimination Policy and an Equal Pay Policy.

There are two main forms of discrimination:

Direct Discrimination

This involves treating an individual within the workforce less favourably than others on sexual, marital, racial or disabled grounds. For example, a dismissal from a job because a person decides to get married or choose to cohabit with a person of the same sex and live as ‘partners’. One act of discrimination is sufficient and must be directed at an individual for action to be taken.

Indirect Discrimination

This describes a term or condition applicable to both sexes but where one sex has considerably less of an ability to comply with it than the other, for example, a condition that a candidate for a job must be of a minimum certain height. This would put women, for example, at a disadvantage collectively.

Managing Diversity

Managing Diversity is a more modern phrase used by successful businesses in harnessing together all the skills and talents of their workforce. It expands the boundaries beyond equality issues and builds on recognised approaches to equal opportunities. It creates a working environment in which enhanced contributions from all employees works to the advantage of the business, of the employees themselves and to society generally. It offers the opportunity for organisations to develop a workforce to meet business goals and to improve approaches to customer care.

Managing diversity is about having the right person for the job regardless of sex, race and disability. It combats prejudice, stereotyping, harassment and other undignified behaviour and creates an environment in which people from all backgrounds can work together harmoniously.

Remember, it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy
  • Marital status
  • Homosexuality
  • Religious background

You, as the employee have the right to:

  • A workplace that is free from unlawful discrimination and harassment
  • Fair practices and behaviour in the workplace
  • Competitive merit-based selection processes for recruitment and promotion
  • Equal access to benefits and conditions
  • Fair allocations of workloads
  • Fair processes to deal with work-related complaints and grievances.

More information regarding equal opportunities can be found on the websites of the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Disability Rights Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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