How to deal with workplace discrimination?
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How to deal with workplace discrimination?

With the ongoing discrimination debacle shining a light on the English Football Association’s workplace HR mechanisms, HR Grapevine spoke to Richard Nicolle, Employment Law Partner at Stewarts to find out how HR can combat discrimination at work.

How can HR work to ensure that discrimination issues don’t happen?

Whilst the level of media coverage of diversity issues in the England women’s football team and the FA’s handling of the resultant investigation and fallout from these issues has gained an unusual level of public scrutiny, it nevertheless provides a salutary reminder as to the potential significance of such issues.  It goes without saying that it is an important role of HR to ensure systems, policies, processes and training are in place to minimise the risk of diversity issues arising. 

It is particularly important that mandatory diversity training is provided to all employees and that regular up-dates occur. It is also important that HR ensures that policies are in place pursuant to which employees feel comfortable in reporting any concerns.

Why do employers need to take all instances of discrimination seriously?

It is clearly very important that employers take instances of discrimination, of all types, seriously.  At the extreme end of the spectrum, the situation faced by the FA with senior employees, examined by a Parliamentary Select Committee, demonstrates how the inexpedient treatment of such matters can give rise to significant reputational damage.  In any event, most employers would want to maximise the existence of a fair workplace which is free of discrimination and in which all employees regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation etc. feel respected and have the opportunity to progress based on their individual merits. 

There is also the risk of Employment Tribunal claims with the cost and possible risk of adverse findings.

What can employees do if their employers aren’t listening/there appears to be a cover-up?

Ultimately, employees have the option of raising a grievance.  However, it may well be that such grievances aren’t properly investigated, and the response involves going through the motions with a view to protecting possibly more senior employees and the overall organisation’s reputation. 

Employees dissatisfied with the employer’s investigation/grievance outcome have the option of issuing Employment Tribunal proceedings.  This obviously represents something of a nuclear option.  There would also be every option of employees contending that the discrimination in itself but more significantly the employer’s failure to properly address it represents a breach of an implied contractual term entitling them to resign and claim constructive dismissal. 

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