Discrimination in the workplace: Ensuring you don’t fall foul of the law
Employment law has been designed to ensure that everyone is protected in the workplace. It sets out a framework for what employers should to do to avoid discrimination at work.
When it comes to work, there are many areas where discrimination may be a risk. This is why it’s important to consider all aspects of working life when addressing discrimination.
You’ll need to start considering the issue from the moment you want to bring someone new on board. Think about the sorts of people you already have in your workforce and whether they generally fit a certain mould. If so, think about how they were recruited. Did the job adverts used to catch their attention use a certain wording? If so, this could be a form of unconscious bias used to hire similar people.
Studies have recently looked into the issue of gender bias in job adverts – an issue you may not have realised was a concern. AI-augmented writing platform Textio found: “In jobs where a man is hired, the original job post averages almost twice as many masculine-tone phrases as feminine. In jobs where a woman is hired, Textio finds the exact opposite: twice as many feminine-tone phrases as masculine in the job post.”
Textio’s research found that words like ‘exhaustive’, ‘enforcement’ and ‘fearless’ all appealed to men, while phrases such as ‘transparent’, ‘catalyst’ and ‘in touch with’ fit a more feminine tone. It’s therefore worth running any job advert through an online decoder that can identify unconscious bias in job adverts. You could soon see a more diverse pool of applicants once the vocabulary of job adverts has been amended to appeal to different people.
As you’ll know, there are certain questions that are strictly prohibited during interviews. Ask them and you risk a discrimination claim. Among the questions you shouldn’t ask in an interview are those relating to any of the following protected characteristics:
· Gender, including gender reassignment
· Sexual orientation
· Marital status
· Race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
· Religion or beliefs
If you need to know about any of these traits – for legitimate business purposes, such as needing an employee to be over 18 to be able to sell alcohol – there are ways of asking that won’t get you in trouble.
You could ask if an applicant has any commitments that could affect their ability to do the job in question or what languages they speak and write fluently. You can check whether they have any specific requirements to be able to do the job effectively.
Once you’ve recruited your new team members, it’s important that they and your existing workforce are educated about discrimination. Ensure everyone knows what is and isn’t acceptable – this includes contractors you are working with. Put the rules in your employee handbook and get workers to sign an acknowledgement of receipt.
According to the UK government, there are restrictions around providing benefits to one employee that you don’t offer to all, such as offering married people something you don’t offer to those in civil partnerships. Ensuring fairness for all employees should be a priority for your company’s senior management. As your organisation’s leaders, things start with them and trickle down throughout your workforce.
If someone then alleges discriminatory behaviour or practice, it is vital to address it swiftly and confidentially. React consistently to all complaints – set out a series of actions for managers to take and ensure they are followed in every instance of an alleged discriminatory act. This will have to be the case for everyone, regardless of their position in the company.
Ensuring you don’t fall foul of the law when it comes to discrimination at work means you have to continuously monitor the situation. Your company might benefit from proactivity, such as the sending out of confidential surveys enquiring into how employees feel their rights are being respected at work.
One of the most important functions of the HR department is ensuring everyone feels comfortable and accepted in the workplace. This is entirely achievable when you monitor your staff happiness levels and react decisively when discrimination is found to have been experienced.