1. POLICY STATEMENT
1.1 We do not discriminate against staff, clients, suppliers or anyone on the basis of their gender, sexual orientation, marital or civil partner status, gender reassignment, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, pregnancy and maternity, religious belief, disability, or age (the protected characteristics). The principle of non-discrimination and equality of opportunity applies equally to the treatment of former staff, visitors, clients, customers and suppliers by members of our current workforce. We are committed to abiding by and promoting the aims of the Equality Act 2010, Rule 6 of the Solicitors Code of Conduct 2007, and Principle 9 of the new SRA Handbook to be introduced at the end of 2011, as well as all other employment law legislation.
1.2 This policy, and the measures we take to implement it, have been devised on the basis of advice from the relevant governmental and professional bodies. We are committed to a programme of action to make this policy effective and to bring it to the attention of all staff.
1.3 This policy deals with the specific categories of staff and areas of work which we have identified as potentially giving rise to equal opportunities issues and provides more specific guidance on the parameters of our policy and approach to equal opportunities.
1.4 All staff have a duty to act in accordance with this policy, and therefore to treat colleagues with dignity at all times, and not to discriminate against or harass other members of staff, whether junior or senior to them. In some situations, we may be at risk of being held responsible for the acts of individual members of staff and will not therefore tolerate any discriminatory practices or behaviour.
1.5 This policy does not form part of any employee’s contract of employment and it may be amended at any time.
2. WHO IS COVERED BY THE POLICY?
2.1 This policy covers all individuals working at all levels and grades, including senior managers, officers, directors, employees, consultants, contractors, trainees, home workers, part-time and fixed-term employees, casual and agency staff and anyone on unpaid voluntary work experience (collectively referred to as staff in this policy).
2.2 The policy statement in paragraph 1.4 applies equally to the treatment of our visitors, clients, customers and suppliers by our staff and the treatment of our staff by these third parties.
3. PERSONNEL RESPONSIBLE FOR IMPLEMENTATION OF THE POLICY
3.1 The Partners have overall responsibility for the effective operation of our equal opportunities policy and for ensuring compliance with the relevant statutory framework prohibiting discrimination. The Partners have delegated day-to-day responsibility for operating the policy and ensuring its maintenance and review to the Personnel Partner.
3.2 Those working at a management level have a specific responsibility to set an appropriate standard of behaviour, to lead by example and to ensure that those they manage adhere to the policy and promote our aims and objectives with regard to equal opportunities.
3.3 All members of staff are responsible for the success of this policy and must ensure that they familiarise themselves with the policy and act in accordance with its aims and objectives. If you are involved in management or recruitment, or if you have any questions about the content or application of this policy, you should contact the Office Manager to request training and/or an information pack. All staff will be given training on this policy and comply with it as part of the Induction Procedure.
4. SCOPE AND PURPOSE OF THE POLICY
4.1 This policy applies to the advertising of jobs and recruitment and selection, to training and development, opportunities for promotion, to conditions of service, benefits and facilities and pay, to health and safety and to conduct at work, to grievance and disciplinary procedures and to termination of employment, including redundancy.
4.2 We will take appropriate steps to accommodate the requirements of workers’ religious, cultures, and domestic responsibilities. Our Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy and Flexible Working Policy should be consulted for specific guidance on our approach to these issues and your entitlements.
5. FORMS OF DISCRIMINATION
5.1 Discrimination by or against an employee is generally prohibited unless there is a specific legal exemption. Discrimination may be direct or indirect and it may occur intentionally or unintentionally.
5.2 Direct discrimination occurs where someone is treated less favourably because of one or more of the protected characteristics set out above. For example, rejecting an applicant on the grounds of their race because they would not “fit in” would be direct discrimination.
5.3 Indirect discrimination occurs where someone is disadvantaged by an unjustified provision, criterion or practice that also puts other people with the same protected characteristics at a particular disadvantage. For example, a requirement to work full time puts women at a particular disadvantage because they generally have greater childcare commitments than men. Such a requirement will need to be objectively justified.
5.4 Harassment related to any of the protected characteristics is prohibited. Harassment is unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. Harassment is dealt with further in our Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy.
6. RECRUITMENT AND SELECTION
6.1 We aim to ensure that no job applicant suffers discrimination because of any of the protected characteristics above. Our recruitment procedures are reviewed regularly to ensure that individuals are treated on the basis of their relevant merits and abilities. Job selection criteria are regularly reviewed to ensure that they are relevant to the job and are not disproportionate. This policy stands alongside our separate Recruitment Policy which should be referred to.
6.2 Job advertisements should avoid stereotyping or using wording that may discourage particular groups from applying. They should include an appropriate short policy statement on equal opportunities and a copy of this policy shall be sent on request to those who enquire about vacancies.
6.3 We take steps to ensure that knowledge of vacancies reaches a wide labour market and, where relevant, groups under-represented in our organisation. Where appropriate, use may be made of lawful exemptions to recruit suitably qualified people to cater for the special needs of particular groups.
6.4 Applicants should not be asked about health or disability before a job offer is made. There are limited exceptions which should only be used with Office Manager approval. For example:
(a) Questions necessary to establish if an applicant can perform an intrinsic part of the job (subject to any reasonable adjustments).
(b) Questions to establish if an applicant is fit to attend an assessment or any reasonable adjustments that may be needed at interview or assessment.
(c) Positive action to recruit disabled persons.
(d) Equal opportunities monitoring (which will not form part of the decision-making process).
6.5 Applicants should not be asked about past or current pregnancy or future intentions related to pregnancy. Applicants should not be asked about matters concerning age, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, or gender reassignment without the approval of the Office Manager (who should first consider whether such matters are relevant and may lawfully be taken into account).
6.6 We are required by law to ensure that all employees are entitled to work in the UK. Assumptions about immigration status should not be made based on appearance or apparent nationality. All prospective employees, regardless of nationality, must be able to produce original documents (such as a passport) before employment starts, to satisfy current immigration legislation. The list of acceptable documents is available from the Office Manager or the UK Border Agency.
6.7 All job applicants will be asked to complete our online Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form when they apply for a job. It will be made clear to them that failure to complete the form or the answers they give will in no way impact on the consideration of their suitability for employment, the nature of the employment they receive, or their entitlement to pay or benefits.
7. STAFF TRAINING AND PROMOTION AND CONDITIONS OF SERVICE
7.1 Staff training needs will be identified through regular staff appraisals. All staff will be given appropriate access to training to enable them to progress within the organisation and all promotion decisions will be made on the basis of merit.
7.2 The composition and movement of staff at different levels will be regularly monitored to ensure equality of opportunity at all levels of the organisation. Where appropriate, steps will be taken to identify and remove unnecessary or unjustifiable barriers and to provide appropriate facilities and conditions of service to meet the special needs of disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.
7.3 Our conditions of service, benefits and facilities are reviewed regularly to ensure that they are available to all staff who should have access to them and that there are no unlawful obstacles to accessing them.
8. TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT
8.1 We will monitor redundancy criteria and procedures to ensure that they are fair and objective and are not directly or indirectly discriminatory.
8.2 We will also ensure that disciplinary procedures are carried out fairly and uniformly for all staff, whether they result in the giving of disciplinary warnings, dismissal or other disciplinary action.
9. DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION
9.1 If you are disabled, or become disabled in the course of your employment with us, you are encouraged to tell us about your condition. This is to enable us to support you as much as possible. You may also wish to advise your line manager or the Office Manager of any reasonable adjustments to your working conditions or the duties of your job which you consider to be necessary, or which would assist you in the performance of your duties. Your line manager of the Office Manager may wish to consult with you and with your medical adviser(s) about possible reasonable adjustments. Careful consideration will be given to any such proposals and they will be accommodated where possible and proportionate to the needs of your job. Nevertheless, there may be circumstances where it will not be reasonable for us to accommodate suggested adjustments and we will ensure that we provide you with information as to the basis our our decision not to make any adjustments.
9.2 We will monitor the physical features of our premises to consider whether they place disabled workers, job applicants or service users at a substantial disadvantage compared to other staff. Where possible and proportionate, we will take steps to improve access for disabled staff and service users.
10. FIXED-TERM EMPLOYEES AND AGENCY WORKERS
We monitor our use of fixed-term employees and agency workers, and their conditions of service, to ensure that they are being offered appropriate access to benefits, training, promotion and permanent employment opportunities. We will, where relevant, monitor their progress to ensure that they are accessing permanent vacancies.
11. PART-TIME WORKERS
We monitor the conditions of service of part-time employees and their progression to ensure that they are being offered appropriate access to benefits and training and promotion opportunities. We will ensure requests to alter working hours are dealt with appropriately under our Flexible Working Procedure.
12. BREACHES OF THE POLICY
12.1 If you believe that you may have been discriminated against you are encouraged to raise the matter through our Grievance Procedure. If you believe that you may have been subject to harassment you are encouraged to raise the matter through our Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy. If you are uncertain which applies to you or need advice on how to proceed you should speak to the Office Manager.
12.2 Allegations regarding potential breaches of this policy will be treated in confidence and investigated in accordance with the relevant procedure. Staff who make such allegations in good faith will not be victimised or treated less favourably as a result. False allegations which are found to have been made in bad faith will, however, be dealt with under our Disciplinary Procedure.
12.3 Any member of staff who is found to have committed acts of discrimination or harassment will be subject to disciplinary action. Such behaviour may constitute gross misconduct and, as such, may result in summary dismissal. We always take a strict approach to serious breaches of this policy.
13. MONITORING OF THE POLICY
13.1 The Management Committee will review the effectiveness of this policy on an annual basis to ensure it is achieving its objectives.
13.2 Staff are invited to comment on this policy and suggest ways in which it might be improved by contacting the Office Manager.