Managing Intolerance in the Workplace

Welcome to this HR Blast. Today we look at managing intolerance and prejudice in the

workplace. This is not something that occasionally happens. This is live and real in many workplaces today and exacerbated by recent events including ISIS and also the Brexit referendum.

What’s happening in your workplace? Do you know? Do you care? Drive this underground or ignore what is going on under your nose and you are likely to end up with time-consuming and costly grievances and discrimination claims, not to mention the cost and inconvenience of losing valued staff who decide they no longer like your working environment.

Did you know that after 9/11 race hate crimes in the States escalated by 1200%? Whilst not at the same level there has been a massive increase in bullying and intolerance in the UK both during and post-Brexit.

We often live in an intolerant world. We tend to like people who are like us. We tend to like people who have the same work ethic (or lack of work ethic) as us. We tend to like people who look like us.

The world we live in

How aware are you of the world we live in? Here are a few facts and figures that we include in our diversity training:

  • 16.2% adults in the UK suffer from some form of mental illness.
  • 6% individuals are lesbian, gay or bisexual. LGBT people are more than twice as likely to be bullied and discriminated against as heterosexual people in the workplace. Bisexuals and lesbians reported the highest level of bullying(19.2% and 16.9%), followed by gay men (13.7%).
  • Around 4-8% of the UK population has dyslexia.
  • 24% of the adult population in the UK has a disability. The UK employment rate for disabled adults is 48.1%. (2010 figure)
  • 6% of UK population is Muslim, but over 50% of UK population see Muslims as a threat. Muslim men are 76% less likely to have a job of any kind compared to white, male British Christians of the same age and with equal qualifications.
  • Deaths by suicide always highlight the need for greater support for adult men. The gender split is 78% men 22% women.

Take a look here at our diversity training options.

Essential Work Place Need to haves

  • A grievance policy so that staff know how to raise a grievance.
  • Diversity training – so that staff know where the boundaries lie, what is the difference between banter and bullying, where the line is drawn, what the law expects of employees.
  • Employment law training for managers so that managers know what the law expects, what to do when inappropriate behaviour occurs and what the penalties are for failing to manage this.
  • A disciplinary procedure that clearly outlines sanctions for bullying, harassment, victimisation, racist behaviour, unprofessional behaviour etc.
  • A professional code of conduct – when staff understand where the lines are drawn it becomes so much easier to manage them and staff like it too.

Classic Errors

  • Managers thinking that adults behaving like kids will grow up and everything will be fine. It won’t be. Misbehaviour needs managing.
  • Both managers and staff not understanding the difference between banter and bullying.
  • Staff thinking that they are not responsible for reporting bullying or harassment.
  • Staff thinking that because they have moaned about something, that their manager understands that in reality, they wanted to make a formal complaint.
  • Managers not knowing when to initiate an investigation following an employee grumbling, moaning or complaining. When should bullying or racist behaviour be formally addressed?
  • Managers not ever having to face the financial consequences of not managing issues that are escalating. Putting legal fees into a different budget or ‘pot’ often means that managers have no idea what their mistakes have actually cost the organisation.

Is harassment or bullying misconduct or gross misconduct? Read here.

What are the potential costs?

Ignoring or failing to manage intolerant behaviour in the workplace and be very costly. In case you needed any more persuading about why you should start managing the behaviour in your workplace, here are some of the financial implications:

  • If a claimant has been discriminated against, there is no limit to the amount of compensation they can receive. There are guidelines, which generally suggest that compensation should be within these (Vento) bands:
    • Lower band – up to £6000, for the least serious cases e.g. one-off incident
    • Middle band – £6000-£18,000 for more serious cases that don’t warrant the highest award
    • Top band – £18,00-£30,000 for the most serious cases e.g. where there has been a lengthy campaign of discrimination

However, there are plenty of examples where claimants have received far more than this. Often when they make multiple claims, e.g. discrimination, harassment, unfair dismissal, breach of contract and so on you can end up with very significant sums, some of the biggest cases in 2015 include:

  • Tirkey V Chandock and another – the claimant brought a caste discrimination case and was awarded £266,537.
  • J V H Ltd – the mother of a disabled child received £251,460 for the way her redundancy was handled.
  • O’Sullivan was awarded £233,869 for disability discrimination.
  • A V S was a claimant with ME who was discriminated against and received £192,656.

Of course any award a Tribunal makes would only be part of the costs you incurred, the legal costs of defending the claim, can be at least as much as the award itself. The British Chambers of Commerce claims that the average legal costs of defending a Tribunal claim are £8,500 and in our experience, this is a conservative figure. For a more complex claim, such as a discrimination claim, the costs can often escalate very quickly into tens of thousands.

Lastly, if you wanted any more persuading, it’s worth remembering that you have vicarious liability in respect of bullying, harassment, discrimination and victimisation. That means that the employer can be held responsible for the acts (or omissions) of their employees, both inside work and outside work if it’s in the context of work e.g. work party, drinks after work on a Friday and so on. The only way to protect against this is by having clear policies and guidelines in place and managing intolerant behaviour and grievances quickly, clearly and effectively.

A few sources:

Bitc, The Guardian, Gay Life.

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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