What is an equality policy?
An equality policy is a business document that outlines a company's position on equality in the workplace. This is important - discrimination at work on grounds of age, race, gender, sexual orientation and religion are all illegal, and if your employees or the company as a whole acts in a discriminatory manner, you could be vulnerable to expensive litigation.
Why should my company have one?
The first reason to have a business document outlining your company's stance on equality is simple - it's good for your employees. Discrimination, bullying, maternity leave, and so on are areas that workers frequently feel hesitant talking about, and unclear about what their legal rights are. Having a clearly defined equality policy gives your employees something to refer to if they have any queries and gives them a clear process to follow.
From a manager's point of view, it is of even greater importance that you have good quality policy documents to refer to in case of a dispute. Bullying and discrimination litigation can be costly, time consuming and very damaging for a business. A clear equality policy will help reduce the incidence of such problems. Established guidelines concerning what kind of behaviour is unacceptable and outlining a disciplinary procedure are essential, and you should be aware that if any of your employees acts in a discriminatory manner, you can be held responsible for their actions. A comprehensive equality policy can be invaluable in demonstrating that an employee has breached company regulations, and can direct any legal consequences towards the employee who has erred rather than the company as a whole.
What does it need to say?
The equality policy needs to:
- State your company's commitment to equality and diversity in the workplace
- State the kinds of discrimination that are covered by your policy
- Outline a clear plan of action for encouraging equality in the workplace
Kinds of discrimination that should be covered in the equality policy include:
- Ageism - Note that it isn't always older people who complain of age discrimination - there are many cases of younger workers complaining that their older peers are paid more for doing the same job.
- Sexism - This includes discrimination in hiring and pay, and also harassment in the workplace.
- Sexual Orientation
- Religious Discrimination
- Disability Discrimination
What can go wrong?
If writing a comprehensive equality policy sounds daunting, consider getting a template document - many companies can provide you with a business document template to make sure that the policy is correctly worded. Of course, the most important thing to bear in mind is that once you have this policy in place, you have to follow it! You should also hold regular training days to make sure your employees know what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
You also need to make sure that the document is kept up to date - equality laws change all the time, and you do not want to be caught out by a new development that renders your existing policy ineffective.
Iain Mackintosh is the managing director of Simply-Docs. The firm provides over 1100 business documents covering all aspects of business from holiday entitlement to non-disclosure agreements. By providing these legal documents (with content provided by leading commercial lawyers, HR and health & safety consultants) at an affordable price, the company intends to help small businesses avoid costly breaches of regulation and legal action.