Human Resource Management: Equal Opportunities

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Equal Opportunities
The issue of equal opportunities is one which has developed to such an extent over the years that it has now firmly arrived at the forefront of discussion. The nature of equal opportunities is so broad that it affects almost every individual, from every background. Two vast areas link equal opportunities to companies: human resource management and employment law. This report intends, initially, to discuss the topic from both a human resource and a legal perspective: determining how good practice in equal opportunities through positive action is now fundamental to the running of a successful business. In addition, equality problems at Atherton Publishers will be considered with a view to advising the management of possible solutions.

Push v Shove
Arguably, human resources and law are at opposite ends of the spectrum: the former a gentle incentive, the latter a harsh deterrent. This distinction is clearly illustrated in the manner in which each side is labelled: "equal opportunities" evokes a positive impression, whilst "anti-discrimination law", for example, less so.

Human resource management takes a softer approach to equal opportunities and many organisations have adopted initiatives into their working families. These include: equal opportunities (EO) monitoring, having an EO policy, and fair selection training for recruiters. (Kandola & Fullerton, 1998) It has become common practice for job application forms to include a sheet apart of questions about the applicant's ethnicity, gender and religious background. This is an example of EO monitoring in practice. Whilst this is a good idea in theory, this can, arguably, make it even easier for more "traditional" organisations to discriminate.

The law on anti-discrimination is governed by three main statutes: the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Additionally, several European directives have been implemented under new competencies. Unlawful discrimination can take one of three forms: direct, or indirect discrimination, or victimisation. Clearly then, such recognition shows that discrimination need not necessarily be obvious.

Direct discrimination is, essentially, less favourable treatment. In order to prove that such discrimination has taken place, a "comparator" may be drawn, for example where an accusation of sex discrimination has been made by a female, the court may base their decision on a hypothetical situation where the claimant was a man in the same position. The general idea of direct discrimination is sometimes summed up as "disparate impact". It occurs where, with or without intention to discriminate, a condition is applied or a practice established which is, in practical terms, more difficult for people of one gender, or of a certain race, religious group, or sexual orientation to fulfil than their counterparts. This type of discrimination is less personal, the individual will not be analysed so much as the group he or she belongs to. The concept of victimisation is designed to protect those who have made a complaint under anti-discrimination legislation or who have given evidence in relation to a complaint or in some other way act in relation to a possible complain under the law. (Townsend-Smith, 2004)

Is this relevant to employers? Although an overview of the legislation may suggest that responsibility for discrimination will rest with the "guilty" individual, the scope of anti-discrimination law is significantly wider: any act carried out by a person in the course of his or her employment is to be treated as done by the employer as well as by the employee. Notably, the employer's knowledge, or lack of knowledge, is irrelevant.

In order to arrive at a truly harmonious working environment, where all parties are treated equally, the fact that everyone is different must first be addressed. For example, in order for a person in a wheelchair to do the same...
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