Addressing sexual discrimination in the workplace

By Kirsten Cluer, HR Consultant and owner of Cluer HR

With the recent news that Love Island’s Curtis Pritchard was pressured into labelling himself as bisexual following an interview on Good Morning Britain, it raises serious questions around what is deemed unacceptable behaviour towards someone’s sexuality in the workplace.

The 23-year-old was repeatedly asked whether he is bisexual in an interview with Adil Ray and Kate Garraway, promoting LGBT charity Stonewall to reiterate that labelling an individual’s sexuality needs to stop, and that no one should feel under pressure to come out.

Targeting an employee because of their age,disability, race, religion or beliefs, gender or sexual orientation, are all forms of unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

It is also important to note that employers are responsible for preventing any form of discrimination in the workplace and are, therefore, liable for any harassment suffered by an employee(s).

As with all employees, those who are lesbian,gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) are protected under the Act against any direct or indirect harassment throughout the term of their employment, including during the recruitment stage and probation period.

From violating an individual’s dignity, to creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, harassment must not be tolerated and should always be reported to an employer, who can then seek legal advice and guidance on how to resolve the situation.

If employers make their staff aware of what constitutes acceptable behaviour from the very start of their employment, teams will be unified in working together to eliminate discrimination of any kind,before it becomes an issue.

Unfortunately, this can’t be said for every business and cases of harassment in the workplace against LGBT+ employees still occur on a regular basis.

It is important,therefore, that employers take the appropriate action to create an open culture within the workplace, where staff can feel comfortable and safe.

By creating a clear Code of Conduct for employees to adhere to from the outset, an environment of respect and open communication is developed and nurtured. It will also help to create a sense of camaraderie between employees, meaning that should an employee exhibit unacceptable behaviour, more people are likely to speak out against it.

These policies and the organisation’s Code of Conduct should be introduced to employees at the induction stage and reiterated throughout the term of employment.

As with any workplace culture, it is important the principles start from within. Establishing a strong corporate vision which encompasses internal values and staff engagement, as well as external ones,will help to create a culture to which everyone is attuned.

Communication should be a key component of an effective culture. Employees should feel able to freely open up and discuss any issues they may have within the workplace, no matter how serious in nature.

There should be zero tolerance of bad behaviour within an organisation and this should create a whistle-blowing policy, where all employees feel able to report such behaviour whether they have experienced it or witnessed it.

Not only should employees feel free and comfortable to talk about such instances, it should also be clear to them who they should be talking to. By opening clear communication channels for complaints, employees will feel they can share anything they believe is unprofessional.

It is also important to develop procedures to deal with unacceptable behaviour. Managers and leaders should be well equipped to not only be able to identify such behaviour, but also handle any possible complaints.

Line managers are usually the first port of call for many employees, so they should feel capable of dealing with complaints and confident in the next steps. If they need to seek advice, they should know who this is with. Many companies have in-house HR departments, but if they do not, they must make sure employees know where to pursue such advice.

As previously discussed, it’s important that managers, like staff, know the correct procedures in dealing with an incident of sexual discrimination and the resulting complaint. It can be tempting to rush through procedures and skip steps in an attempt to get a quick, and desired, result but it is important to do things correctly.

Not only will this reassure the employee that their manager is taking their complaint seriously, but as already mentioned, it is the employer who is responsible for preventing discrimination in the workplace, so it is the employer who should be seen to uphold those values and procedures.

As with the procedures for reporting incidents,discipline procedures should also be well documented and upheld. Brushing off incidents could be seen to condone them, which will do little to prevent unacceptable behaviour.

Ultimately, while a lot of the reports currently in the media have come as a shock, creating a culture which focuses on eliminating discrimination and harassment of any kind from the outset, will ensure staff are aware what constitutes acceptable behaviour and will be unified in working together to eliminate it.

Kirsten Cluer is the HR Consultant and owner of CluerHR. She has more than 15 years of experience in the field and has Fellow membership of the CIPD.

Author: Editorial Team

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