Positive action in the workplace: Government guidance published

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Positive action in the workplace: Government guidance published

Published 16 mayo 2023

The Government has published guidance to help employers navigate the complexities around lawful positive action.


Positive action allows employers lawfully to give additional help to address disadvantage, different needs or low participation rates among groups of people who share protected characteristics in order to level the playing field in the workplace. 

There are two types of positive action that employers can take lawfully. 

These are:

  • General positive action, which involves proportionate actions designed to meet the three aims above. Examples include providing a leadership scheme to help an underrepresented group achieve more senior positions, providing tailored training for a group with specific requirements, and job fairs targeted at ethnic minority groups.
  • Recruitment or promotion, which involves actions that reduce disadvantage and/or increase representation specifically when it comes to deciding between equally qualified candidates – effectively using a protected characteristic as a tie-breaker. For example, hiring one candidate over another equally qualified one because the former has a certain protected characteristic that is underrepresented in the workforce.

The new Government guidance is intended to help employers understand how they can lawfully and proportionately use positive action to remove barriers to diversity and enable equality of opportunity in the workplace.  It gives worked examples of lawful positive actions compared with unlawful positive discrimination. This is an important difference.  The guidance also explains the steps that employers should take in considering and documenting the need for the positive action.  These are:

  • why the employer feels it needs to take steps (including the evidence that certain groups face barriers in the workplace)
  • the type of action and why this is proportionate
  • the outcomes the employer aims to achieve (including timing), and how it will measure outcomes. The guidance states that employers should also consider and document consultation with relevant groups in the workforce and review progress of the measures to ensure that they remain proportionate. 


While positive action may be an important step in establishing equality of opportunity in the workplace, employers should be aware of the sometimes blurred boundaries between lawful action and unlawful discrimination.  This guidance is likely to be useful but (as the guidance recognises) employers should consider taking legal advice before embarking on positive action.  

Guidance | Positive action in the workplace - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)


Hilary Larter

Hilary Larter


+44 (0)113 251 4710

Ceri Fuller

Ceri Fuller

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6583

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