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Creating Fair Workplaces
This month saw the update of the Equality and Diversity Policy and Procedure for all clients of QCS. A lot of employers are aware of the need to ensure fairness in the workplace, and indeed it makes good business sense to have a workforce drawn from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds. In addition, there tends to be a good general knowledge of the need to ensure that no individual engaged by the business is subject to treatment, which may be considered discriminatory or may constitute harassment on the grounds that the individual has an applicable “protected characteristic”, namely age, disability, gender reassignment marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and/or sexual orientation. However, employers are not generally aware of how important a tool a well-drafted Equality and Diversity Policy can be, should any issues like these arise.
Any employee who feels that they have suffered discrimination or harassment can bring an Employment Tribunal claim against both the employee accused of committing the act or acts of discrimination and harassment and the employer on the grounds of “vicarious liability”. The employer does not have to be aware of the acts or approve of them to be vicariously liable. In order for the employer to be vicariously liable, the acts complained of must have been done by the employee in the course of employment. The factors that a tribunal will take into account when determining whether an act or acts took place in the course of employment will include:
- Whether the act took place on the employer’s premises;
- Whether the victim or discriminator was on duty;
- Should the incident have taken place during a social gathering whether the gathering included employees’ partners, customers or unrelated third parties; and/or
- Whether the event took place immediately after work.
This may seem unfair for employers to automatically be jointly liable for any discriminatory acts of its employees if it is unaware of them until it is too late. However, there is a defence available to employers if it can show it took reasonable steps to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory act.
This is where a well-drafted Equality and Diversity Policy backed up with appropriate publicity to staff and training can assist an employer. Not only can such a policy help an employer to establish a reasonable steps defence but it can also act as a tool to set minimum standards of behaviour expected of all employees and to increase visibility of these issues. The main aim is to ensure that no members of staff are treated differently because of their protected characteristics.
Top Tips for Equality and Diversity
- Implement an Equality and Diversity Policy which is clear and comprehensive and ensure that it is brought to the attention of all staff members;
- Invest in some Equality and Diversity Training to ensure the business is actively promoting equality and diversity across the business and ensuring it remains a key issue in all member of staff’s minds. This should be run at least once every 12 months for all staff as well as for all new staff on induction;
Ensure that your disciplinary and grievance processes are optimised to provide an outlet for staff to complain about discrimination and for appropriate disciplinary action to be taken.
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