Workplace rights: A positive step?

From April, employers will be allowed to take 'positive action' in favour of a protected group - women, for example - when recruiting and promoting.

by Michael Burd and James Davies
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The Coalition was expected to scrap this measure, which has provoked outrage in some sections of the media (sample headline: 'White men face jobs ban'). But managers should not be alarmed. This will not mean that women or any other minority groups will have priority in hiring or promotion decisions. The provision does permit an employer to prefer a candidate with a protected characteristic, as a means of overcoming disadvantage suffered by persons of that group. But this is only where two candidates are equally qualified - the so-called 'tie-break' scenario. For instance, if a company reasonably believes that women are under-represented in its workforce, it could choose a female candidate over a male of equal merit. There is, however, no obligation to take positive action - it is purely voluntary. And how often are two candidates exactly equal? Many employers will be wary of triggering a discrimination claim from the unsuccessful candidate and decide not to touch this with a barge pole.

Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors, email:

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