How to Write an Equal Opportunities Policy

equal opportunities policy


Implementing an equal opportunities policy is one of the most effective ways to prevent unfairness in the workplace and to demonstrate the employer’s commitment to fair working practices. The following guidance looks at the importance of having an equal opportunities policy in place at work, from why this is needed to the benefits that this type of policy can provide for the employer and their business. We then look in detail at how to write an equal opportunities policy to ensure that this is fit for purpose and has the desired effect.


What is an equal opportunities policy?

An equal opportunities policy is a written document that formally sets out an employer’s commitment to fairness and to fair working practices across all aspects of the employment lifecycle, from recruitment and selection through to redundancy and retirement. In particular, the policy will set out in writing what constitutes unfair treatment, including discrimination, both direct and indirect, as well as harassment and victimisation in the workplace. Unfair treatment can also refer to any failure on the part of the employer to make reasonable adjustments to remove any disadvantage caused by a disability.

The policy should set out the employer’s overall stance in relation to unfair treatment, providing guidance on how people should be treated, with examples of the sorts of behaviours and attitudes the employer wishes to promote. For example, the employer may want to make it clear that equality of opportunity is crucial so that all employees have an equal and fair chance of developing their abilities or realising their expectations. The policy could also emphasise that incidents of discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated, explaining how any contraventions of these guidelines will be dealt with, together with any other measures that the employer will take to help eliminate unfair treatment at work.


Is an equal opportunities policy a legal requirement?

There is no strict legal requirement to implement an equal opportunities policy at work, although, under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone in the workplace by reason of a protected characteristic, including:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex, and
  • Sexual orientation.

Under the 2010 Act, the different types of unlawful discrimination can include:

  • Direct discrimination: when someone is treated less favourably than others because they possess any one of the nine protected characteristics, or even because they are perceived to have, or simply associated with someone who has, a protected characteristic.
  • Indirect discrimination: when there is a provision, criterion or practice in place that applies equally to everyone, but puts someone who possesses a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage when compared with others. The protected characteristics that are safeguarded from indirect discrimination are the same as for direct discrimination, with the exception of pregnancy and maternity. However, any woman who suffers indirect discrimination for this reason can still claim for indirect discrimination by reason of sex.
  • Harassment: where someone engages in unwanted conduct related to any one of the protected characteristics, and that conduct has the purpose or effect of violating another person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and/or offensive environment for that person. An employer can be held jointly liable for any acts of discrimination carried out by a member of staff, including harassment, unless they can show that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent this conduct from taking place.
  • Victimisation: when someone is subjected to a detriment at work because they have complained about discrimination or harassment, or because they have supported someone else’s discrimination or harassment complaint. This can also include where someone is subjected to a detriment because it is believed that they have made (or may make) a complaint, or have supported (or may support) someone else’s complaint.

It is also unlawful for an employer to fail to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to reduce or remove any substantial disadvantage experienced by either a job applicant or employee suffering from a disability when compared with someone who is not disabled.


Do employers need an equal opportunities policy?

Although there is no strict legal requirement for employers to set out in writing their stance on the different forms of unlawful discrimination at work, there are various reasons why an equal opportunities policy should be implemented in the workplace, including:

Helping to prevent unfairness in the workplace: having an equal opportunities policy in place is one of the most effective ways to prevent discrimination, harassment and victimisation at work. By raising awareness as to what constitutes unfair treatment, together with the consequences of unwanted conduct at work by way of potential disciplinary sanctions, this can go a long way to eradicating these types of behaviours.

Demonstrating the employer’s commitment to fair working practices: by setting out in writing the stance taken by the employer’s organisation to equality and diversity in the workplace, this will help to reassure existing and prospective employees that discrimination will not enter into any employment decision-making processes.

Educating staff on how to report any incidences of discrimination: by letting employees know what procedure to follow if faced with any potentially discriminatory situation, and how to raise a formal grievance, this can instil confidence in members of staff that any complaints will be taken seriously. By encouraging victims of discrimination, harassment or victimisation to come forward and report any unfair treatment, without fear of reprisal, this can also help to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of discrimination.

Fostering a fair and inclusive workplace culture: by putting in place a policy in which it is clear that everyone will be treated fairly and with respect, where diversity is openly encouraged in the workplace and the employer clearly values the contribution of all employees, this will help to increase employee engagement and boost employee morale.

Minimising the likelihood of tribunal complaints: by having an equal opportunities policy in place, this can help not only to reduce the likelihood of any complaints being made to an employment tribunal by a disgruntled worker or job applicant, it can also help to defend the employer’s position in the event of any claim. By having a policy in place, this will help to show the employer’s positive approach to ensuring equality and diversity within the workplace, and to preventing any incidents of unlawful discrimination.


Benefits of an equal opportunities policy

The benefits of having a written policy not only include the employer’s ability to better defend their working practices and decision-making before an employment tribunal, but this is also likely to lead to a reduced risk of complaints from any disgruntled job applicants or existing employees. Legal proceedings can be costly and time-consuming to defend. They can also have an extremely adverse effect on the employer brand and employee morale. It is therefore essential that steps are taken to minimise the employer’s exposure to any legal risks by reducing the possibility of unlawful discrimination in the first place.

Other key benefits include creating a positive working environment for staff, and being able to attract and better retain top talent because of this. The importance for employers of prioritising equality and diversity in the workplace, and ensuring fair working practices, cannot be underestimated when it comes to what prospective new recruits are looking for in an organisation. In a competitive labour market, where employers must compete for workers by either a more attractive remuneration package or other desirable working conditions, the employer brand and ethos of the company can be absolutely key here.


How to write an equal opportunities policy

When writing an equal opportunities policy, the style and format can vary, depending on the nature and size of the employer’s business, as well as it culture and ethos, where there is no one-size-fits-all approach. These types of policy can also vary in length, provided any policy is sufficient to adequately explain what constitutes unfair treatment, as well as the employer’s stance on inequality and discrimination in the workplace, including measures that the employer will take to help eliminate unfair treatment at work. However, in all cases, the policy must be easy to understand and robust in its terms, making it clear that incidents of discrimination, harassment and victimisation will not be tolerated.

Although employers are strongly advised to seek expert legal advice when drafting any important workplace policy documents that have the potential to fall under scrutiny before an employment tribunal, below we set out various different sections that can be included in a sample equal opportunities policy, to be tailored to the needs of the workplace:

  • An introductory equal opportunities statement: as a starting point, the policy should set out the stance taken by the employer on equal opportunities, and how they will respond to any discriminatory behaviour. The employer should be clear about their commitment to equality and diversity, and to promoting non-discriminatory practices and procedures.

A sample equal opportunities statement could read:

“The [company name] is committed to providing equality of opportunity with regard to our policies and practices across all aspects of the employment lifecycle, from recruitment through to retirement. This means that no employee or job applicant will be treated less favourably on the grounds of either their age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. We will also not tolerate any form of bullying or harassment in the workplace.”

  • An outline of the law on equality: this should include a description of the different types of unlawful discrimination under the 2010 Act, listing the nine protected characteristics, together with illustrative examples. In this way, staff will be fully informed as to who and in what circumstances someone will be afforded legal protection from discrimination. There should also be reference to the employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled job applicants and employees, although the employer may already have in place a separate policy on disability, where this should be clearly signposted.
  • The procedure for reporting unfair treatment or discriminatory conduct: this can explain when it may be appropriate to make an informal complaint, together with examples, but should also include how employees can lodge a formal complaint using the employer’s grievance procedures, signposting to any grievance policy. The employer should emphasise that any complaint will be treated seriously, confidentially and quickly. The policy should also identify who within the business has overall responsibility for these types of complaints, with up-to-date contact details for any relevant point(s) of contact.
  • The potential disciplinary sanctions for discriminatory conduct: the policy should make it clear that all employees, regardless of seniority or role, are expected to respect and act in accordance with the guidelines set out in the equal opportunities policy, where any discriminatory behaviour could result in action being taken against them.


How do you implement an equal opportunities policy?

Having drafted an equal opportunities policy, steps must be taken to effectively implement this policy across the workforce, ensuring that everyone who works for the business is not only aware of the existence of this policy, but fully understands what it says.

The policy should be easily accessible to all members of staff, where induction will play a key role in ensuring all new-starters are aware of its existence and where to locate it. For existing employees, including members of management and HR, training should ideally be provided. As part of this training, both staff and management should be made aware of the importance of the policy across every aspect of the employment lifecycle, including: recruitment and selection, terms and conditions, pay and benefits, promotion and transfer opportunities, training, appraisal, dismissal, redundancy and retirement.


Should an equal opportunities policy be regularly reviewed?

Although putting in place an equal opportunities policy can be an effective way of preventing unfairness in the workplace and demonstrating the employer’s commitment to fair working practices, the policy should still be regularly reviewed and updated (where appropriate), to ensure that this remains fit for purpose. The law is constantly evolving, where new legislation or caselaw may impact the content of the policy. Equally, the environment in which a business operates can also change, including any growth in the size of the workforce or a change in the employer’s approach when it comes to certain practices.

A small business will often only need a basic principle-based equal opportunities policy, whereas a larger business may benefit from several separate policies relating to, for example, equality and diversity, bullying and harassment, as well as disability. However, regardless of the reasons for any review, or for any changes that may need to be made, these changes must again be clearly communicated across the workforce, ensuring that both staff and management are made aware of what is expected of them at all times.


Need assistance?

For advice on developing and implementing an equal opportunities policy for your organisation, contact us.


Equal opportunities policy

What is the basic equal opportunities policy?

A basic equal opportunities policy is one which, as an absolute minimum, sets out what constitutes unfair treatment within the workplace, including what is considered discrimination, both direct and indirect, as well as harassment and victimisation.

What is an example of an equal opportunities statement?

Last updated: 24 January 2024


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

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