Liverpool HR are often called to advise on potential discrimination claims.  At a time of unparalleled focus on the goals of equality, diversity and the prevention of unfair discrimination, many employers still struggle to properly understand and prevent discrimination in their workplace. 

Fairness in the workplace is a vital part of a successful business. It is supported by the law – the Equality Act 2010 – and also makes good business sense in running and developing an organisation.

The aim of the Equality Act is to improve equal job opportunities and fairness for employees and job applicants. As a business, you should have policies in place so these outcomes happen and, just as importantly, to prevent discrimination.

So what do you need to know?

The Equality Act 2010, which implemented the principle of equal treatment and brought together various laws on discrimination, is the basis of the law in this area.

The Equality Act prohibits direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of any of the ‘protected characteristics’ which it identifies.

What are protected characteristics?

The various protected characteristics, and the forms of discrimination that are unlawful, are:

  • Age discrimination

  • Disability discrimination

  • Gender reassignment discrimination

  • Marriage and civil partnership discrimination

  • Pregnancy and maternity discrimination

  • Race discrimination

  • Religion or belief discrimination

  • Sex discrimination

  • Sexual orientation discrimination

Discrimination law is a complex area, but the key principles outlined in the Equality Act are that an employer should not discriminate on the basis of any of the protected characteristics.

Discrimination could occur, for instance, when selecting an employee for redundancy on the basis of a protected characteristic, failing to promote an employee or not hiring an applicant despite their suitable qualifications for the role, and can also take the form of outright harassment of a mental or even physical nature.

Whether it is an individual or a group of individuals who are responsible for these acts and behaviours, as an employer, you are liable for these acts, and need to take all reasonable steps to prevent discriminatory acts within your organisation.

So how do you do this?

There are several key steps you can take as an employer:

  • Understand your obligations

  • Adopt a straightforward, easy to understand policy

  • Properly communicate this to all employees

  • Implement this alongside (and reinforce with) proper training

  • Communicate the message regularly

  • Enforce the policy

As an employer, you need to have a clear plan of action to handle discrimination. If you become aware that discrimination has or is taking place in your organisation, you can consider various options such as additional training, disciplinary procedures and mediation for handling concerns or complaints 

Employees who believe they have been subjected to discrimination, or who believe they have witnessed discrimination in the workplace, should be able to feel confident in raising the matter with you and assured it will be taken seriously.

Training 

Proper training is key not just to the implementation and enforcement of policy (reducing the likelihood of discriminatory acts in the first instance), but also, if discrimination has taken place, you will be able to demonstrate you took ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent the discrimination (and thus avoiding liability for that discrimination). 

Those reasonable steps would normally include: 

  • Having and implementing an equal opportunities policy and an anti-harassment and bullying policy and reviewing those policies as appropriate.

  • Making all employees aware of the policies and their implications.

  • Training managers and supervisors in equal opportunities and harassment issues.

  • Taking steps to deal effectively with complaints, including taking appropriate disciplinary action.

Our discrimination laws may be complicated, but you can and should be implementing the above to: 

  • Deter and prevent unfair and unlawful practices which give rise to claims, impact the workplace and can have serious adverse effects on individual victims. 

  • Demonstrate you are taking ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent such discrimination.

  • Avoid claims which are damaging, time consuming and (unlike unfair dismissal, for example) are not subject to a statutory cap on compensation.

The business case for encouraging equality and preventing discrimination

  • Encouraging greater awareness and understanding of the different protected characteristics, alongside tackling discrimination, can help to reduce the chance of complaints, disciplinary action or an employment tribunal claim – and avoid the costs and disruption to the organisation.

  • Improve team spirit – an employee or groups of employees who are being discriminated against are likely to be unhappy, less productive and de-motivated, and this can have a negative impact on the whole workforce.

  • Attract, motivate and retain staff, and enhance you reputation as an employer. If employees who have been discriminated against feel undervalued or ‘forced out’ and leave, the organisation will run up the costs of recruiting, training and settling in new staff when its reputation as both a business and employer may be damaged.

 

If you need any support or guidance on training, policies or equality in the workplace, please get in touch!

T: 0151 728 7717

E: anna@liverpoolhr.co.uk

Twitter: @LiverpoolHR