Editor's message: There can be confusion about the difference between positive discrimination and positive action. The key distinction is that positive discrimination is generally unlawful, but positive action is allowed provided that organisations meet the conditions set out in the Equality Act 2010.
Positive action is about taking “proportionate” steps to improve equality in the workplace by removing or reducing the hurdles faced by individuals in a group with shared protected characteristics.
In recruitment, positive action can be used where you “reasonably think” there is disadvantage or under-representation of certain groups in your workforce. If that is the case, you are allowed to encourage individuals from those groups to apply for work and you can provide training to help equip them for the particular work. However, selecting the successful candidate must be made on merit alone, unless you are faced with candidates that are “as qualified as” each other – a “tie-breaker”.
Using positive action measures can benefit your organisation by giving you a wider pool of talented and skilled individuals and a more representative workforce. But you must ensure that any positive action taken is a proportionate means of addressing the under-representation or disadvantage.
Fiona Cuming, senior employment law editor
HR and legal information and guidance relating to positive action.