Positive Discrimination

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Health Assured team

08 December 2021

Employers must prioritise equality and diversity in the workplace. It’s important to recruit a workforce of varying ages, genders, races, and religions. A diverse workforce leads to greater business success.

That said, employers must treat all individuals fairly and equally by law. No matter who they are, what they believe in and where they come from. If you’re favouring people in the workplace for their characteristics, then you're failing to comply with the Equality Act.

This is what’s known as positive discrimination. And it can occur, even if your intentions are in the right place.

This guide will cover positive discrimination from an employer perspective. We’ll look at what positive discrimination is, the effects, and how to take positive action in the workplace.

What is positive discrimination?

Positive discrimination means treating someone more favourably because of their protected characteristics.

The Equality Act (2010) makes positive discrimination illegal in the UK. There are nine protected characteristics in the equality act. Positive discrimination relates to all the protected characteristics below.

They include:


• Disability.

Gender reassignment.

• Marriage and civil partnership.

• Pregnancy.



• Sex. 

Sexual orientation.

Positive discrimination can occur in various situations. It can happen when hiring, letting employees go and during promotion opportunities.

Positive discrimination examples

To help you get a better understanding of positive discrimination, we’ve put together some examples below.

• An LGBTQ+ candidate and a heterosexual candidate both attend interviews for a job role. The heterosexual candidate is more qualified and suitable for the job role. But the employer chooses to hire the LGBTQ+ candidate because they are trying to hire more LGBTQ+ workers into senior positions.

• An organisation needs to go through the redundancy process. They are considering roles where they could make cuts. Several employees get put at risk. The employer chooses to make a better-performing male worker redundant. They keep the female worker because they want to achieve a gender-balanced workforce.

• Two employees apply for a promotion. The manager chooses to promote the worker with a physical disability because they want to give disabled employees better opportunities. However, the other candidate has worked for the organisation longer and performed better over the years.

Effects of positive discrimination

Positive discrimination in the workplace leaves employees feeling demotivated and disengaged. It can cause workplace tensions to rise and trigger conflicts between colleagues.

It can even lead to employment tribunals for claims of discrimination. This will damage the reputation of your business and could also lead to costly fines in some cases.

Employers must understand how they can take positive action in the workplace without positive discrimination taking place.

How to prevent positive discrimination in the workplace

Positive discrimination UK law means it's illegal for it to take place in the workplace. So, employers must take steps to stop it from occurring.

Here are some ways that you can prevent positive discrimination in the workplace:

Positive discrimination policy. A written policy can help to outline your zero-tolerance approach to positive discrimination.

The policy could include expectations and guidance to employees. Ensure you focus on how to handle situations where positive discrimination is more likely to occur.

Bias training. Preconceived ideas we have about the world around us influence our decisions in subtle ways. Bias training helps managers to look out for unconscious thoughts guiding decisions like hiring or redundancies.

Positive discrimination vs positive action

Unlike positive discrimination, positive action is lawful. Positive action allows employers to improve equality in the workplace.

It makes things fairer by providing opportunities for underrepresented groups. But employers must be careful that they aren’t favouring some employees over others when using positive action.

Examples of positive action

We’ve put together some examples of positive action below. This should help you to understand the difference between positive action and positive discrimination.

Use these ideas to improve opportunities, equality, and diversity in your workplace environment.

Positive action statements. When posting job adverts employers can include positive action statements to encourage applicants from underrepresented groups.

You could include: ‘we welcome female applicants’ in your job advertisement if your workforce is predominantly male workers.

Job fairs. Job fairs can help you to expand your exposure to different disadvantaged groups. Attending fairs in different areas will help you to hire a diverse and equal workforce.

Training. If you want to improve the opportunities available to underrepresented groups in the workplace, you could offer leadership training or development opportunities.

For example, if you notice that LGBTQ+ or ethnic minority workers struggle to progress in their careers, you could provide them with training that may help them get a promotion.

Hiring. Employers can favour the candidate who is from an under-represented group when two candidates are of equal ability.

Get help with positive discrimination from Health Assured

Health Assured can support you with all types of discrimination, including positive discrimination.

We can help you take positive action in the workplace in the correct way. Our legal advisors are on hand to guide you to create an inclusive, diverse workplace that treats every employee fairly.

Our confidential whistleblowing support allows your employees to confidently raise claims and feel supported throughout.

Our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; with multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors ready to help.

Want to find out more? Book a free consultation with one of our wellbeing consultants. Call 0844 891 0352 for help with all forms of discrimination.

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