Employment Tribunal found Government office guilty of discrimination

An employment tribunal ruled that a black civil servant was a victim of unconscious bias when an inquiry into her sex life was launched by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

At the time the employee worked for the FCDO overseeing grants given to Nigerian organisations. When working in Nigeria for the FCDO, an inquiry was launched as it was alleged that the employee had formed an intimate relationship with an employee of one of the companies receiving government grants.

Senior colleagues assessing and conducting the claims against her were found at tribunal to have treated the employee with an “unwarranted degree of suspicion”.

This case highlights the difficulties employers have in addressing unconscious bias.   By its nature unconscious bias is not easy to identify. However, it remains pervasive in the workplaces. Training is particularly important for managers and senior managers, not only as they are likely to be key decision-makers, but also to foster an inclusive culture. But most importantly, at the heart of any anti-discrimination strategy should be a strong, well-enforced policy that helps employers protect staff.

For employers, a claim for discrimination against an employer may be defeated if they can show that they took “all reasonable steps” to prevent the discrimination and having appropriate policies and training in place is a critical component of such a defence.

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