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? Could saying comments such as “you look good for your age” or “you’re looking good today” find yourself in a legal dispute?
Recent research 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.
Marc Jones, an employment law specialist and partner at IBB Solicitors, adds:
“Part of this big issue for businesses is that not enough staff are aware whether their employer has a policy or guidelines on acceptable verbal and written communication within the workplace /during office hours and if they don’t many employers do not police them. A third of employees did not know what measures are in place and a further third believe there no policies in place at work.”
- 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 staff 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.
Find out how we can protect your business and your reputation as a fair employer by calling us on 03456 381381. Alternatively email your details to firstname.lastname@example.org.