Employers face a surge in employment tribunal claims because they are unprepared for new legislation outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religion and belief.
Exclusive research by Personnel Today and law firm DLA shows the majority of organisations will be vulnerable when the legislation comes into force on 2 December.
The survey of 1,400 HR professionals reveals that just 8 per cent of employers know the sexual orientation of their workforce and only 13 per cent are aware of their religious beliefs,
In addition, more than 60 per cent of respondents don't believe their line managers have the skills to deal with equality and diversity issues.
Makbool Javaid, partner at DLA, said the findings indicate that many employers will be in for a rude awakening when the EU Employment Framework Directive comes into force.
"There needs to be proactive action by employers to train staff and raise awareness or they will face real problems.
"There is currently no definition of religion and belief, so it will be hard for line managers to ensure they are complying with the law," he said.
The survey also reveals a worrying lack of support or interest in the issue from business leaders. Just 42 per cent of those polled report their top management tier is genuinely committed to improving diversity.
Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, agreed that a lot of employers will be in for a shock. "This is going to hit some people like a sledgehammer. This survey should alert employers that they need to get to grips with this issue," she said.
Head of equal opportunities and diversity at the British Council, Fiona Bartels-Ellis, said her organisation had been training managers and staff since last year to ensure compliance.
"The problem for employers is that guidance is not out until September, which leaves things very tight," she said.
By Ben Willmott