Marc Jones, an employment law specialist and a partner at at full service law firm Turbervilles Solicitors, shares his expert advice on the thorny and often overlooked issue of discrimination.
Over the past 40 years, a number of laws have been passed – including the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1996, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and more recently the Equality Act 2010 – to create a more tolerant and politically correct society in this country.
Yet how much ‘PC’ behaviour is actually reflected at work? How many of us are aware that office banter or a joke we make could be regarded offensive, or even worse, unlawful?
Recent research from Turbervilles Solicitors, conducted amongst more than 1000 employees across Britain, shows that discrimination is still rife at work. Half of them had heard or received discriminatory remarks at work weekly, rising to seven in ten on a monthly basis – comments which could cause offence because of somebody’s age; disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. Yet two thirds of employees do nothing about it or laugh it off.
If you’re an employee who believes you are suffering from discrimination at work:
- Inform the perpetrator that the discriminatory conduct is offensive and ask them to stop/not to repeat it.
- If this does not work, report the discriminatory conduct to your line manager.
- If the discriminatory conduct is by your line manager, report it to their line manager and/or HR (if the organisation employs someone).
- Although no one should be subjected to a single act of discriminatory conduct – organisations will rarely admit liability and often play down single acts. Therefore, a diary of discriminatory acts should be kept. The more detail on where, when, what time, what was said or done and who witnessed it will be hard for an organisation to reject.
- If there are witnesses then ask them to confirm the discriminatory conduct, such as, sending an email along the lines of “I can’t believe x said/did x – can you?”.
If you’re a business owner and want to prevent discrimination in your company
- Make sure all your staff know that your organisation has a zero tolerance approach to acts of discrimination in the workplace. If you don’t have an equal opportunities policy, anti-harassment policy and/or a dignity at work policy in place make sure you put them into effect as soon as possible.
- Given the increasing number of people using social media – make sure that your policies factor what is acceptable behaviour within all of these channels.
- Make sure all your staff understand all of the policies – what is considered acceptable behaviour and what is unacceptable and unlawful. Provide regular training for your staff about these policies.
- Make sure your organisation culture is one which encourages staff to come forward about a perceived discriminatory comment.
- Be clear to distinguish the difference between harmless banter and what could be deemed offensive and unlawful.
- Be sure to stress that jokes about ethnic minorities, women, different sexual orientation, individuals with disabilities, or older workers will not be tolerated in your organisation.
- Ensure staff of a different sex, race, sexual orientation or religion are not excluded and are integrated effectively in the workplace.
Words Marc Jones
You can find out more about Tubervilles Solicitors at turbervilles.co.uk