How can you prevent discrimination in your small business to protect employees and organisational reputation? Freeths LLP Senior Associate, Toby Pochron explains how discrimination laws affect businesses and strategies to prevent discrimination.
Discrimination in a business can create a hostile working environment and have lasting negative impacts on a business, whether it be to reputation or to staff morale. Discrimination can also have highly costly consequences, with the potential for substantial damages to be awarded in the employment tribunal.
Overall, businesses need to approach the topic of discrimination in the workplace with caution, as getting it wrong can be highly costly.
How do discrimination laws affect a business?
Starting from the beginning: the Equality Act 2010 protects all employees, workers and job applicants from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation on the grounds of their protected characteristics.
In practice, this protection afforded to the workforce covers not only the impact of actions and policies taken and made by a business, but also the actions of other employees in the course of their employment. Therefore, businesses have the risk of being vicariously liable if a member of staff discriminates against or harasses a colleague and could face a claim regardless of their knowledge of the incident.
What this means for businesses is that they need to have the correct measures and policies in place to mitigate this risk and ensure that their employees act with dignity and respect towards each other.
Strategies for preventing discrimination
There are several ways in which businesses can protect their employees from discrimination in the workplace. The following are a few core elements which can be used to promote and monitor equality:
Regularly review all policies and procedures
Businesses should ensure they carry out regular reviews of policies and procedures, even if the policy is not formal or written down. This will also include the application of policies and procedures.
The following policies tend to have the highest risk of being discriminatory:
- Sickness, absence, and attendance management
- Annual leave
- Dress codes
- Training and development
It is key to carry out risk assessments regularly to consider the discrimination or harassment risks there are within the nature of a business and its commercial field. Beyond risk assessments, businesses may want to consider carrying out anonymous staff surveys or externally facilitated focus groups to gauge potential areas of risk.
To ensure that all levels of staff understand how to act in the workplace and how to look out for discrimination training is essential, especially at management level. This training can also focus on the business’s equality, discrimination, and anti-harassment policies.
Promoting equality in the workplace
It is incredibly important to ensure that a culture of respect is embedded within the workplace. There are several ways in which a business can proactively encourage a workplace which is safe for all members of staff…
1. Leading by example
Having senior members of staff visibly promoting equality and communicating the business’s stance on discrimination in the workplace can be powerful for other employees to follow suit.
2. Workplace equality champions
With some extra training, members of staff can act to:
- Advocate for and monitor equality issues
- Oversee training
- Support other members of staff
- Act as a role model of how to act while at work
Equality and diversity champions can be a strong core to centralise a business’s approach to equality in the workplace. Businesses should consider appointing equality champions at all levels of employment to ensure that all employees feel they have someone they can discuss any issues with.
3. Encourage reporting discrimination
Businesses can develop this by showing that they take discrimination issues seriously through the support offered to individuals who raise concerns and by investigating allegations thoroughly. It is also useful to facilitate as many ways of reporting discrimination as possible.
Creating a discrimination policy
The aim of a discrimination policy is to reassure staff that the business values equality and diversity and is proactively standing against discrimination. It should also act to discourage discriminatory behaviour and encourage staff to raise any issues they may have in the workplace. Therefore, it is key to get it right when creating a discrimination policy.
Creating a discrimination policy for your business
These are a few key points to consider when creating a discrimination policy:
- Ensure the policy covers all staff and all aspects of employment, from recruitment, to performance, all the way through to an employee leaving the business
- Make the policy easy to access and publicise it to employees as much as possible using internal systems available, such as emails, induction packs, training, or reference to them in meetings
- Ensure the policy covers the procedure for reporting discrimination, harassment, and victimisation and how complaints will be investigated
- The policy should state that it has explicit backing by senior members of the business
- Ensure that the policy is drawn up in consultation with employees and any relevant trade unions
If ever in doubt of the effectiveness of a discrimination policy or concerns over discrimination occurring in the workplace, seek legal advice.
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Written by Toby Pochron
Toby Pochron is a Senior Associate in the Freeths LLP Employment Law department. He was a Partner in the Employment Law department of Ironmonger Curtis.