Equal Opportunities in the Workplace

Equal opportunities in the workplace means that everyone within an organisation should have an equal chance to apply and be selected for posts, to be trained or promoted equally and fairly. There should be no discrimination at work on the grounds of sex, homosexuality, age, racial origin, religious affiliation, disability or marital status.

A diverse group of workers enjoying equal opportunities at work

Employers can only judge performance on the grounds of ability, experience or potential. All employment decisions should taken on an individual’s ability to do a particular job.


The Equal Opportunities Commission

When the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) was set up, it was to tackle the issue of gender discrimination at work.

It’s purpose was to offer women the same working rights as men. However, equal opportunities has been broadened and backed up by law to provide protection to other minority groups in the workforce. So today, we have race relations policies, disability discrimination policies and equal pay policies.


Examples of Discrimination in the Workplace

There are two main forms of discrimination in the workplace:

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 applied to both sexes where one sex is considerably less able to meet 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 in the Workplace

Managing Diversity is a more modern phrase used by businesses in bringing together all the skills and talents of their workforce.

It expands the boundaries beyond equality issues and builds on recognised approaches to equal opportunities. Managing diversity creates a working environment in which better contributions from all employees works to the advantage of the business. It benefits the employees themselves and society generally. Effective policies offer 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. This creates an environment in which people from all backgrounds can work together well.

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.

Equal Opportunity Examples

There are many benefits to ensuring that a workplace makes sure there are equal opportunities for all employees. But how can you create a positive workplace environment? Some examples of how workplaces can ensure they are an equal opportunity employer are:-

  • Recruitment Procedures to prevent any discrimination during the hiring process. An example of this would be removing personal details from CVs when they are being reviewed by decision makers.
  • Creating Workplace Policies that outline the steps the workplace will take to ensure fair and equal treatment for all workers.
  • Ensuring Equal Pay so that no member of staff earns less than a co-worker because of unfair reasons.

More information regarding equal opportunities can be found on the websites of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and the Disability Rights Commission. Acas has excellent information on diversity, equality and inclusion in the workplace. If you are having any problems at work, they can provide advice and support.

27 thoughts on “Equal Opportunities in the Workplace

  1. Bubbs says:

    I recently retired from work – Health Service – having been told by my HR Department that I could return on a part-time Ad-Hoc basis, as has happened before to other colleagues. After retiring I have now been told that I must re-apply when posts are advertised. This has not been the case for another staff member to retired approx 2 years ago, took a week or so out, and then returned to work on an Ad Hoc basis, now practially back up to full time. How can this be, he is around the same age as myself, doing the same job ‘Paramedic’? Can someone please adsvise or give some help

  2. glenny says:

    I have been off work for 7months due to being bullied and harassed at work from supervisor there is no problem with my work but have had allegations x4 made against me all unfounded this is totally draining watching my back the bully is a compulsive liar but management do nothing a grievance has been submitted by 10 members of staff relating to this supervisor the hearing is on 15th nov i don’t expect anything to come out of this as management seem to back her I am 53 I believe i have been suffering from PTSD i am signed off with work related stress I now fear going to work and have asked for early retirement and refused I am tearful when i think about this i have suffered for 2 1/2 years and don’t see an end to this I was a confident and conscientious worker now can’t think i will ever be able to return

  3. Geordie says:

    I work for ikea but for a agency. Ikea give there work force a free healthy meal every day but the agency have to pay for theres me plus all of the ikea workforce got a free xmas present yet we do exactly the same job. Is this classed as discrimination??? Could you please e mail me and let me no.and if it is, how would you be able to regtify it???

    • Safe Workers says:

      @geordie – You chose to work through an agency and you must have accepted certain terms and conditions when you signed the contract. You should note howeverm, that if in the UK if you spend 12 weeks in the same job with the same hirer, you qualify for equal treatment. This means you’re entitled to the same basic terms and conditions as ‘comparable workers’ – employees doing the same job in the same workplace. check out more on this if you need to here.

  4. Joe says:

    I applied for a job in a different department at the company that I worked for under the instruction of my manager. 2 days later he pulled me to one side and told me he was withdrawing my application as he wanted me to progress in his department which I was fine with. A year later a member of staff (my boss brother in law) approached me and said he was being made a supervisor but he didn’t want to. He also said that he had a day to decide if he wanted to have the job and if he didn’t I could have it. No application required.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @joe – You will need to make a complaint directly to your employer about this, you could also try a call to ACAS. We don’t have sufficient detail to give you any really good advice but this does seem an unethical way of treating one’s employees.

  5. Maria says:

    An employer clearly treat better a family member than other staff, by giving her holidays, time off, huge payrise and refuse the same treatment to other employees. Is this discrimination? Is nepotism illegal? Thanks

  6. d.brown says:

    i work in london as a mechanic on trains, we all work alternating shifts earlys lates and nights including weekends and also there is a day team who do not get shift pay these work mon – fri our manager has let a staff member do permanant early shifts monday to friday no weekends on shift pay and has changed all our shift rotas because of it, i asked for the same deal as it would fall under unfair oppertunities and he refused. i asked if there was a special reason this member of staff was being favouritised by not having to work weekends and not doing alternating shifts but still getting shift pay, he said it was too much hassle to get him to do weekends? how is this fair and is it illegal? i am ticked off with it as it means i have to do more weekends for the same money as him

  7. Carol50 says:

    I work in health care for the private sector, my question is …… Is a private care company excluded from Equal opportunities in the work place ? ( I know the answer I just want it clarifying please

  8. Paulk says:

    I work for a local council and they changed how you can apply for holidays. They say you can apply for your years entitlement commencing the month after your birthday. As my birthday is February I can apply for summer 2016 from March 2016. Employees whose birthday is August 2015 can apply in September 2015 as well as others whose b/day is in the following months. By the time March comes around there will be no or little summer availability. I have applied for March 2016 June and August 2016 and have all been refused Is this discrimination as out of 70 workforce, potentially half could pick holidays before myself or others in my situation. I would be grateful for any advice

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Paulk – This certainly doesn’t seem to make sense from the way you’ve described it. Question this with your employer – if you’re not satisfied raise a grievance following your employer’s normal grievance procedure.

  9. 308 says:

    Hi, I work for the council and have done for over 20 yrs (school) they have just finished doing an equal pay review. Myself and most of my colleagues have lost money and we may have to do more hours 4.5 a week making our hours 37. They have also stated we will be classed as part time which effects things like our pensions. When we did 32.5 we were classed as full time is this right. Can they make such changes to our new contracts.

  10. gazza says:

    I have worked for my company now for 10 yrs and have suffered from diabetes type2 and I’m insulin dependant. for a vast majority of this time I have been stuck on the same job ,whilst I have asked constantly for training it has been brushed aside and almost ignored . in this time I have kept good time keeping, keeping any doctors appointments connected to my diabetes to a minimum during working hours . a few months ago I asked for a transfer of duties to another factory highlighting that I suffer from diabetes and bouts of depression in hoping this would help in getting me off the job I had been doing for years. until a few weeks ago my attendance was excellent until I went for a health check for a stomach complaint. during the assessment the nurse explained to me that my bp was dangerously high and I was to see my own gp. my own gp placed me on the sick for a number of weeks . the employers o.h has recently seen me and gave me the all clear to return to work under certain conditions .that I don’t return to my usual job. but h.r have said even though I’m fit for work that they need to investigate this further and have asked me to go back to my g.p for a further sick note . what id like to know is is this legal as I’m now starting to fear for my job and feel something is amiss as h.r have said they would need to do a job search to see if there is anywhere suitable they can put me but if there isn’t my job would be at risk. I also have other questions id like to ask based on discrimination should I get the chance . thank you

    • Safe Workers says:

      @gazza – Your employers should give you an alternative if there is one available but if there is nothing suitable then, they would be within their rights to dismiss you if you are unable to do your job.

  11. Harry says:

    I’ve sat a series of interviews, fails to get the jobs. However my feed back has been that my interviews were good, and I carried myself very well. However I’ve been turn down because of my lack of experience in the job. I have asked my employer for training to do the job, but they have refused. So in theory, I can’t be promoted without experience, and I can’t get experience without training. Is this discrimination?

  12. Upset says:

    I have been working with a company for 6 months. When I started I was made aware that there was another salesperson but she was in a car accident and was out on disability. The entire region was suffering to the point of no current sales at the time. I started working on the area that the previous rep for who I was hired to replace. After a few months I was asked to call on the other rep’s accounts because they weren’t sure if she would be able to return. I did this but knew that if she was able she would get them back. Now she’s back and I have been informed that they are not only giving her back the accounts I’ve been covering. They are now taking all of my largest accounts that I have been developing for the last 6 months and giving them to her because they are easier to cover geographically. I now have to start all over building a new territory. I feel this is unfair and that I’m not being given equal opportunity now. What can I do?

  13. b says:

    i am employed at a care facility in housekeeping it is a union job an i do pay dues i have contacted the rep an waiting on a return call how ever this is the problem our department has the current hours of 7am to 3pm an 8am to 4pm i was hired to work the 8 to 4 shift they are now creating a new shift that will be 12pm to 8pm i was told that if no one else would agree to work that shift an share it with me that since i was the last person hired in that department i would be the one to have to work those hours an no one else would have to i feel its unfair to make me be the only one to have to change my schedual while every one else does not would that be dicriminating against me just because i was the last one hired or favortism to the other workers for not making them the same hours in the same department doing the same job also is it even legal to do so or is it even legal to make any one of us work those hours when that shift didnt even exist when any one of us was hired can some one please let me know the legal aspect of this situation

  14. libz says:

    I work for a well known pub chain, and have done for almost two years. I have been subjected to racial harassment and bullying from both staff and customers without any support from management. This evening on a busy Friday night I was sent by the manager to check the men’s toilets? because there were men in there I left asking a male colleague to go back in, he left without doing so. I have now been told no-one is getting a bonus because of me, the colleague I asked who is a team leader told me male members of staff cannot enter the female toilets at weekends, when I asked the manager if this was true he declined to answer. Surely if it is policy for male staff, it should be the same for females.

  15. Magg says:

    Hi, I have worked for a company for 15 years I work 5.75 hours a day and I have always had a 20 minute break now my company say they are cutting this to 13 minutes can they do this without my agreement?

  16. Stefania says:

    Hi! I am working for a company for most 2 years. I received training for driving, i pass the exam and also the practice. I prove i can work at same level like old drivers from my company. Because a part of my collegues aren’t happy with my training and with that position, complain at management that they have more rights and i will be useful when they will need (holiday,sick). It is that fair? Should we have same oportunities and equality at job?

  17. Cat says:

    My job and a female colleagues has recently been placed at risk. 5 jobs have been created and I’ve been told I have to apply for one of the new roles. Male colleagues in other business areas were recently promoted directly into newly created roles without having an interview. I feel like I have been treated differently and unfairly because I am a women. The company has recently been assessed and openly admits to gender bias which they say they are working to correct.

  18. PVM says:

    I have been working with my company for 4 years as TL . I have great performance and my team has the best In my market . My job has been put at risk because I work night . We have been always treated differently as night workers . Less opportunities not involved with the company . We are 5 TLs with same job description and they put redundancy just the 2 working night, even if my performance is the best in the company . I feel discriminated .

  19. Tdawg says:

    I have worked for a care company for around 14 years ,I started as the care taker and was very good at interacting and helping with the service user group that attends the centre,I also have siblings with disabilities and have a good knowledge in working with others with disabilities,I was given the opportunity to train to be a support worker and do my svq level 3 which I did and passed ,at the same time their were 3 others that did this training that had just started at the centre,they also all passed ,I became a very reliable and hard working staff member who whole go out of my way and help at any time even setting up and helping with charity events ,I would attend maybe 3 a year and help set up the music and make sure their was good entertainment,I felt and was told I was one of the best staff members and that if I work hard I could progress in my work role ,I fell in love with a female college that was one of my bosses and we started a relationship we got engaged and had a child together , this was deemed ok with our boss and everyone was happy for us , an opening for a job comes up at the centre which I attend an interview but don’t get the job but was told I had the highest marks out of everyone that attended an interview ,so I was upset that I did not get the job but let it go ,I later found out that one reason someone else was hired for that job was my manager thought he was good looking which made me angry but again I let it go ,by this time I would have been working at the center for 10 years another job comes up which would progress me I was not informed of this opportunity by anyone as I was on holiday and so was my partner who works their ,I arrived back at work and their were 2 new positions above mine which were given to two employees that had only been working at the centre for a few years ,this made me upset and I spoke to my manager ,she told me I would not progress because I was in a relationship with a staff member who is a manager ,now I have been working at this place for 14 years now and the same thing is happening someone that has just been working a couple years is being given more opportunity than me and I think it’s unfair even tho I am in a relationship with a manager ,the main manager said they don’t want me to get preferential treatment which I am not the opposite is happening ,I get overlooked for everything and I am not kept in the loop at all ,can anyone help with this or do I just leave

  20. any says:

    hello my brother works in a company he is cleaning supervisor has worked there for 15 years he has always supervised not clean, the new boss wants him to clean now and supervise because he wants to save money the manager has done what he wanted with the workers, he has the right to make these changes

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