The Equality Act allows service providers to take action that may involve treating one group more favourably where this is a proportionate way to help members of that group overcome a disadvantage or participate more fully, or in order to meet needs they have that are different from the population as a whole. This is called ‘positive action’. Positive action is always voluntary – not compulsory.
Steps employers can take
An employer can take what the law terms 'positive action' to help employees or job applicants it thinks:
- are at a disadvantage because of a protected characteristic and/or
- are under-represented in the organisation, or whose participation in the organisation is disproportionately low, because of a protected characteristic and/or
- have specific needs connected to a protected characteristic.
Examples of positive action
- Targeted advertising of jobs. This can be using specific, but not exclusive, media to advertise jobs
- Using positive action statements in recruitment adverts, for example stating that the employer welcomes applications from a particular group, for example men at a nursery where the workforce is, and has been, 80% female
An employer must be able to show evidence that any positive action is reasonably considered and will not discriminate against others. Positive action must not be confused with positive discrimination which is unlawful; e.g. the setting of quotas (as opposed to targets, which are lawful) or any form of preferential treatment. Where positive action has been taken to encourage applicants from disadvantaged groups to apply, every applicant must be considered on individual merit and selection for interview and appointment must be based strictly on the agreed selection criteria.
Further advice can be provided by the central EDI Team.