Protected groups are defined in the Equality Act 2010 as Sex, Gender Reassignment, Marriage or Civil Partnership, Pregnancy or Maternity, Race (including Ethnic or National Origin, Nationality or Colour), Disability, Sexual Orientation, Age, and Religion or Belief.
Most, if not all, companies have an equal opportunities and diversity policy which state the company will take active steps to promote good practice and regularly practice. The question is though, how often do you review those policies and are they actually relevant to your working practices?
Your policy and practice could include the following:
- Working towards the elimination of unlawful discrimination, harassment, and victimisation based on a protected characteristic, whether actual, perceptive, or associative.
- Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.
- Foster good relations between persons who share a protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.
- Subject policies to continuous assessment in order to examine how they affect protected groups and to identify whether policies help to achieve equality of opportunity for all these groups, or whether they have an adverse impact.
- Monitor the recruitment and progress of all employees, collecting and collating equalities information and data as required by law or for the furtherance of equalities objectives.
- Promote an inclusive culture, good practice in teaching, learning, and assessment, and good management practice, through the development of codes of best practice, policies, and training.
- Publish policies widely amongst staff, together with policy assessments, equality analysis and results of monitoring.
It is not sufficient to have a policy yet not be able to evidence the application, training and understanding by staff. If an employee was to make a claim against you of harassment and/or discrimination would you be able to evidence policy review and regular employee training in not only the equal opportunities policy but the grievance, harassment and bullying policies too.
Another point to consider is workplace banter. In Minto v Wernick Event Hire Ltd, a female employee, M, was subjected to daily remarks that were of the same sexual nature as the theme of the ‘Carry On’ films. Her manager gave evidence that banter, including strong language, was an everyday fact of life. The tribunal found that this amounted to sex discrimination and harassment. The tribunal said:
“‘Banter’ is a loose expression, covering what otherwise might be abusive behaviour on the basis that those participating do so willingly and on an equal level. It can easily transform into bullying when a subordinate employee effectively has no alternative but to accept/participate in this conduct to keep his or her job.”
To successfully defend a tribunal you will need to be able to evidence that such behaviour is not condoned and appropriate action is taken.
All employees have a responsibility to ensure their behaviour provides a comfortable and safe environment but your managers, team leaders and supervisors are required to ensure unnecessary banter is not part of the workplace and action is taken where necessary.
If you have questions regarding your policy documents or would like to discuss possible training delivery for staff and managers, please contact the HR Consultancy team on 01484 439930.