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Why equality and diversity is a key issue in today's workplace

Wednesday 01 November 2006

In just over seven years, only a fifth of the workforce will be white, able-bodied, male and under 45. This is the fact that has driven Acas, Britain's leading employment relations advisers, to develop its first free equality and diversity online learning tool.

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"It must be an intolerable situation to know you are working in an environment where you feel your contributions are not valued.

Unfortunately many can suffer - for years sometimes - without being able to overcome this problem, and even more worrying is that employers are not trained to be aware of the types of issues that can make people feel undervalued and ineffective." Says Stephen Williams, Head of the Equality and Diversity Unit at Acas.

"This has been the main driver behind Acas devising a series of equality and diversity e-learning tools designed to help both employers and employees recognise relevant issues and be able to address them."

The e-learning tool, on sexual orientation and gender reassignment, launches today at and provides a practical learning tool to assess an organisation's position and how any issues can be further identified and addressed. This new learning tool is provided alongside a free consultation from Acas as part of the Government's drive to promote good practice to underpin the sexual orientation and religion and belief regulations 2003.

Notes to editors

1. For further information go to the Acas website at

2. Further audit tools in religious belief and age discrimination are also being developed.

3. Figures provided by Office of the National Statistics British Labour Market Projections 1998.

4. Appendix A is a brief fact sheet on equality and diversity legislation for sexual orientation and religion and belief.

For press enquiries please contact Kimberley Huggins or Lou Owen, tel: 020 7210 3894/3920. Out of office hours, please contact the press office on 07900 406992.

Appendix A


Sexual Orientation Regulations

  1. The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 cover everyone, gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual.
  2. It is unlawful to harass someone for being heterosexual.
  3. Health and safety legislation takes priority over the Sexual Orientation Regulations.
  4. An estimated 8% of the population is not heterosexual.
  5. Religion or belief does not give individuals the right to discriminate, bully or harass gay and lesbian people.
  6. Civil partnerships confer the same rights as civil marriages.
  7. The description 'straight' may cause offence to people who are not heterosexual.
  8. The Regulations protect people on the grounds of their sexual orientation and do not protect people who wish to portray any particular fetish.
  9. You should take care not to discriminate against someone at the behest of a third party such as a customer.
  10. As we approach the festive season, make sure same sex partners are invited to social gatherings in the same way as you invite opposite sex partners.

Religion or Belief

  1. The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 cover not only an individual's religion or belief but also other's perception of their religion or belief.
  2. Atheism is a belief under the Regulations.
  3. Paganism and Wicca are religions under the Regulations.
  4. You do not have to provide a prayer room, although if you unreasonably refuse to allow staff to use a room for prayer it may have a detrimental effect on staff motivation and loyalty.
  5. Muslim staff would prefer not to be in a room where there are pictures of people - they may leave and work elsewhere rather than ask you to remove the pictures.
  6. Jews would like to be home by sundown on Fridays in order to celebrate the Sabbath. This only affects most working environments between November and February. Where practical, flexible working hours (perhaps starting work early and finishing early) is the best way of meeting everyone's needs.
  7. Cannabis is unlawful, Rastafarians do not have to smoke cannabis to comply with their religion.
  8. Religion or belief does not give individuals the right to discriminate, bully or harass gay and lesbian people.
  9. Many religions forbid alcohol. Holding meetings or social functions where alcohol is served may make it difficult for all your staff to attend. Do not be afraid to ask and be flexible.
  10. It is not true that most people of non-Christian religions are actually offended by Christmas festivities. Do not be tempted to ban paper chains, Christmas trees and greetings cards without first asking if they would cause offence.