Employers and managers have a crucial role to play in stamping out discrimination and harassment at work. For too many years employers have shied away from the topics of discrimination and harassment, but businesses can be hit with serious financial, legal, and reputational repercussions if they fail to properly deal with any such allegations under the Equality Act.
To avoid such issues, employers will want to take a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to tackling this kind of behaviour. However, it is important to ensure that all individuals are treated fairly throughout an investigation and to set clear examples for how employees are expected to behave.
So how can employers allegations or harassment and discrimination appropriately?
Create a clear harassment and discrimination policy
It is important for employees to know where the company stands on issues of harassment and discrimination, so they know the boundaries of expected behaviour and where to turn if they need to make an allegation. The code should cover broad terms, but also specific examples to illustrate any complex points.
Listen to victims and witnesses
The worst thing employers can do in this situation is to ignore the witnesses or victims. If they say a problem has happened, or a situation was hateful or discriminatory then management need to stop and listen. Their lived experiences are more important than any prior assumptions about the employee they are speaking out against.
It can be useful to ask the victim what consequences they believe the accused should face for their actions. A company does not have to follow the victim’s suggestion, but the discussion about repercussions can provide valuable insights into how serious the offence may have been.
Management should try to gather the most information possible to set up a clear file about the situation and employees involved. The more information employers can gather, the easier it will be to find the truth and resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction.
Talk to the accused and consider their future
Management need to hear all sides of the situation before coming to a conclusion, so it is important to quietly take aside the accused and hear their perspective. Sometimes the issue could have been a simple misunderstanding, but if the accused acknowledges that acted poorly and makes clear that they want to change then retraining could be possible outcome.
Alternatively, if the accused shows no remorse and no willingness to change for their actions or then this should be taken into account, and the employer should consider whether this employee has a future at the company. Keeping them as an employee could lead to future discrimination cases and the reputational damage to the company could result in current or future employees choosing to work elsewhere in less difficult workplace environments.
Make sure to avoid any potential backlash against victims
Despite their actions towards certain members of staff, problematic employees may be popular at the workplace and may try to make the situation difficult for their victims if allegations are made. It is important that victims and witnesses feel protected by management and any potential backlash for raising concerns should be avoided. There’s no reason that this employee should be punished for having been discriminated against, and there’s no reason that further discrimination should be allowed or ignored.
Update hiring and training processes
Once a problem has been resolved, it may be useful to take a fresh look at the company’s hiring and training processes to see where things went wrong and whether any changes to these processes to prevent such issues arising in the future. Updating these policies demonstrates to employees that the company wants an inclusive and respectful workplace environment and that any behaviour that does not meet these standards will not be tolerated.