Is your equal ops training “wholly inadequate”?

A recent tribunal case, Fricker v Gartner Ltd has demonstrated that workplace language, and what society finds to be “acceptable” language is changing. This is in the context of what is referred to as “banter” in the office.  Banter is often used to describe language which is in fact, discriminatory and this case is an example of an employer not taking sufficient steps to prevent inappropriate language in the workplace, leading to a discrimination case.

The claim related to sexual harassment and constructive unfair dismissal. The claimant in this case had repeatedly been referred to by her boss as a “good girl” despite being a mother in her thirties. She strongly objected to her line manager’s use of the phrase but he continued to use this language and his behaviour became increasingly inappropriate.

Further complaints from the complainant lead to the manager starting a performance improvement process which was designed to manage her out of the business.  When the claimant challenged this, she received no support and other managers defended the line manager’s behaviour. Claims of sexual harassment and constructive dismissal were successful.

When responding to the claim, the tribunal judge stated that “Language evolves over time.  Words and phrases that might once have seemed harmless in the past are now regarded as racial, homophobic and sexist slurs.”

The employer did have an Equal Opportunities Policy in place, but the judge noted that it was “really in name only as its drafting was poor; generalised and outmoded and not really committing to anything more than laudable aspirations”.

It was also noted that the manager’s training was “entry-level” and “not at all sophisticated” amounting to two sessions, both of which lasted less than an hour. The training had also occurred several years before the claim was raised.  The employer tried to suggest in their defence that they had taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent this type of behaviour in the workplace, using the policy and training as examples of the steps taken. The employment judge was damning and stated that the defence was “wholly inadequate”.

The judge listed what he would regard as the minimum requirement from an employer, as follows:

  • implementation and regular review of a properly drafted equal opportunities policy;
  • evidence that the employer had taken steps to ensure all employees were aware of the policy;
  • the provision of and regular updating of equal opportunities training; and
  • having an effective policy to deal with complaints.

If you feel that your training for managers is “wholly inadequate” 121 HR Solutions can help.  Call us on 0800 9995 121 for further information.

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