UK: Respect At Work: Discrimination And Diversity - Employment, Labour & Equalities Update (Video Content)

Siobhan Bishop and Anna Fletcher, a director in our Employment, Labour & Equalities team, talk about respect at work, diversity and inclusion.


Siobhan Bishop: Hello, I'm Siobhan Bishop and today I'm talking with Anna Fletcher, a director in our Employment, Labour & Equalities team, about respect at work, diversity and inclusion.

So, Anna, the legislation already covers discrimination and equality and harassment, but what are the recent developments we are seeing in this area? 

Anna Fletcher: We've seen quite a lot of recent developments in this area Siobhan, we've seen it around dress codes, issues around what you might describe as banter in the workplace and other more challenging issues perhaps, which I'll talk about in a moment.

But if I go back to dress codes. The dress code issue I think is a really key issue. Many organisations have dress codes because they have a corporate image or there may be health and safety or hygiene reasons and we do have some conflicting case law.

So, case law involving, for example, Cleveland Fire Authority, a gentleman called Mr Holdsworth who wanted to grow his hair long. There was a concern that that would interfere with breathing apparatus. He was asked to cut his hair. Ultimately, following some kind of altercation, he brought a claim against the Fire Authority and he failed and the tribunal there said, well, as long as the dress code is applied in a way which is even-handed, differences don't really matter.

But then you look at other cases, so a case against The Link Stores, called Jarman, where Mr Jarman brought a direct discrimination claim because he wanted to wear an earring. His female colleagues were permitted to wear earrings, and the tribunal found that that was direct discrimination.

So, if you fast forward earlier this year, we became aware that British Airways cabin crew, after a two-year dispute, have permitted female cabin crew to wear trousers. And then, more recently, something which I think really hit the headlines, the issues in relation to wearing stilettos, or the requirement for a receptionist placed with PWC through an outsourcing agency to wear stilettos. She turned up on the first day without stilettos; was laughed at; told to go away. She brought this to the public's attention, started a petition, a petition on the basis that the stilettos were unlawful or illegal and the matter was resolved with the outsourcing agency changing its dress code to provide that there was no requirement for people to wear stilettos.

And I think what that does is it highlights the potential issues around what might be perceived as sexism and the importance of ensuring that dress codes are reviewed to ensure that they are discrimination free.

So, there is the issue obviously of what might be described as office banter and how that can get organisations into a lot of hot water, lots of adverse publicity. So, a case involving a gentlemen who was referred to by his much young manager as 'Gramps', who ultimately, when he was dismissed, brought a claim for unfair dismissal and age discrimination and that claim succeeded and the tribunal awarded him a very significant sum of compensation including £9,000 worth of injury to feelings.

A case against Housing 21, brought by a lady of Irish nationality, who complained that her manager likened her to the characters on my Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, that again led to a finding of discrimination. The manager there thought that that was 'just banter'.

And then you get into the issue of sport and we know that various well known sportspeople have been recorded or broadcast inadvertently making comments. So, if you think about Malcolm Mackay, the former manager of Cardiff City, he wasn't recorded, he was discovered to have sent texts that were xenophobic, homophobic and racist and obviously lost his position as manager.

And then more recently this year, the issues that arose in the Six Nations rugby competition, where one English player referred to one of the Welsh players as "Gypsy boy". The Welsh player had a traveller background and, in that particular case, there was a great big outpouring of issues there with in fact the Welsh coach describing that as banter and then having to retract and apologise for that.

Finally, in relation to sort of more recent developments, a case in Jersey, which I think we could all do well looking at, involving a transgender female passenger. She brought a complaint of discrimination against a company called Condor Ferries. She contacted the ferry company to ask which toilet facilities she should use and the response had been that she should use the disabled toilet and she brought a complaint. And as part and parcel of the judgment, in that particular case, the use of signage was questioned. So, you shouldn't say Ladies and Gents, for example, you should just simply use signs.

So, I think that the piece around transgender employees is going to become particularly important and then, you know, whether we see a development in the legislation, there is a lot in the press at the moment about people who are non-binary, so gender-neutral, how those individuals can be protected in the workplace, because obviously they are not protected by the Equality Act. So I think that really goes to the importance of respect for all at work.

Siobhan:  So, clearly, all those issues are going to influence into the decision about why business should make respect at work at key priority?

Anna: Well, I think it goes without saying there's so much research now that shows that if you have respect at work, dignity at work, at the heart of your business, then not only will you attract great talent, great choice when it comes to recruitment, you will also have a very engaged workforce. You will be in a position where you retain that workforce so, you know, you're reducing the cost of having to continually recruit and replace people.

You will appeal to your customers; your brand will be enhanced by the diversity of your workforce. So it creates that competitive advantage and, of course, by avoiding litigation and adverse publicity again, you know, you do much to help your workforce feel that it is a great place to work and that will encourage and help competitive advantage.

Siobhan:  So, what can employers do to embed respect at work, in the workplace?

Anna: There are lots of things that employers can do.

I think first and foremost would be the need to ensure that you have top-down support, that you really do have people at senior management level, not just being seen to support respect at work but acting in appropriate ways to show that actually that is really something that is valued.

Having your policies in place, it's a given you should have those policies in place, but actually it needs to be more than that. You need to make sure those policies aren't sitting on the proverbial shelf gathering dust. You need to show that they are alive and that they have been communicated to the workforce, that the workforce understands the importance of respect at work. That can be delivered through training and things like unconscious bias training, in particular for managers, to understand the importance of where they sit in the agenda.

Initiatives can also include things like mentoring, to support underrepresented groups. You can have, for example, wellbeing programmes that help people particularly with issues around mental health. Looking at policies and procedures in the light of other campaigns that are being run by other organisations. So, what can you learn from those campaigns? And I think, you know, really engaging with the workforce and encouraging the workforce so, for example, setting up diversity networks.

Siobhan:  Great, thank you very much Anna.

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