On a daily basis the press are highlighting staff experiences of bullying, harassment and discrimination in the workplace, with many of these reports focussing on large multi-national businesses who are household names. This stream of publicity does not appear to be letting up. You might consider your organisation is immune to this type of public scrutiny, however, regardless of the size of an organisation, there is always the potential of reputational damage and/or financial risk.
Claims involving these types of issues are heard at public hearings, where the press are entitled to be present. Employment Tribunal decisions are also published at the end of the case. Not only are there potentially uncapped financial awards and significant legal costs but those you do business with may decide that the organisation is no longer an appropriate business partner. It does not have to be this way! Many employers could minimise these risks with the right strategy to ensure its employees and business are protected.
The clear message should be that the workplace culture is one that respects dignity, is inclusive and has a zero tolerance to bullying, harassment and discrimination. Problems often arise or escalate due to non-existent/inadequate training of staff and ineffective policies and procedures. A failure to have a roadmap about how you will deal with employee complaints or combat a toxic working culture can lead to many organisations finding themselves in the Employment Tribunal, which may not be limited to claims against the organisation but also against colleagues in their personal capacity. Do your directors, managers and other staff know they could be held personally liable for unlawful behaviour?
Although the most recent and commonly reported experiences in the news relate to sexual harassment and discrimination there are much broader obligations. It is unlawful to discriminate against and harass an individual with a protected characteristic such as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation.
What can an organisation do to reduce these issues?
There are some simple steps that can be implemented to protect your organisation and ensure it is legally complaint:
Endorse meaningful and constructive training from senior management level through to the rest of the organisation.
Implement effective policies and procedures which staff and the organisation can rely upon. This must include a grievance procedure, a diversity and inclusion policy and an anti-harassment and bullying policy.
Ensure workplace related complaints are dealt with in a timely manner, on a fair and objective basis and in accordance with the Acas guidelines on dealing with grievances. A failure to comply with the Acas guidelines may result in a 25% uplift to compensation awarded by the Employment Tribunal.
Monitor how you are tracking regularly. Are appropriate levels of behaviour being achieved? Be proactive not reactive in terms of improving the strategy if it is not working.
Undertake an annual audit to identify non-compliance and ensure documents comply with current legislation, reflect current working practices and address both the needs of the business and employees. The Equality and Humans Rights Commission recommends an annual review of all equality policies.
At FG Solicitors, we have the expertise to be able to allow you to create and implement strategies and policies which promote best practice in preventing bullying, harassment, and discrimination and advancing a diverse and inclusive workplace. To learn more about how we can assist please feel free to call us on 0808 172 93 22 for a no obligation discussion.
This update is for general guidance only and advice should be taken in relation to a particular set of circumstances.