How to deal with discrimination in the workplace

If accusations on the grounds of discrimination are made against you or another of your employees, the fallout could be severe. As the employer, it is your legal responsibility to establish whether discrimination has taken place and to put it right by any appropriate means.

It’s natural to feel anxious in the face of discrimination complaints. Such allegations are serious, and can result in workplace tension, a tarnished reputation among employees and even potential lawsuits. Discrimination accusations are not something to be taken lightly.

How to deal with allegations

So, how can you manage allegations to minimise lasting damage?

With professionalism

It is important when faced with a discrimination complaint that you remain completely professional. You must follow established procedures and keep a written record of all communications about the complaint.

With sensitivity

You must treat the complainer with respect and sensitivity. They are to be considered the victim and must not be treated with any further discriminatory behaviour as a result of speaking out.

30% of british workers have witnessed or experienced racial harassment or bullying at work1

With reflection

Keep an open mind to all discourse surrounding the allegation. It is important to be seen taking active measures to ensure the complaint is dealt with seriously. Suitable preventative measures should also be put in place to prevent repercussions.

Quickly, but not too quickly

You will naturally be keen to smooth over allegations as quickly as possible. However, be careful not to brush accusations away with too much haste. The complainer must feel that their complaint has been taken seriously so as not to risk future legal suits.

workplace discrimination costs uk £127bn a year2

Consider hiring an external investigator

Particularly if a discrimination complaint is made against you (the employer), or one of your close management team, you might consider hiring an external investigator. Hiring a formal, objective body to make investigations on your behalf will prevent accusations of unfairness in legal proceedings.

How to avoid discrimination complaints

Taking measures to avoid future accusations could save a lot of time and money. However, doing so is not as simple as it might seem. You can even discriminate against a particular individual without even meaning to.

These are all considered forms of discrimination:
• Not hiring an individual because of religion, gender or age
• Selecting a particular person for redundancy because of religion, gender or age
• Paying someone less than another worker without good reason3

three-quarters of uk workers feel age discrimination is common in the workplace4

So, how do we go about minimising the risk of discrimination in the workplace? In order to avoid discrimination in the workplace employers should:

Make your complaints procedure accessible

Though all your procedures should be formal and documented, it is also important that employees feel they can approach you with an issue. Providing employees with the option to discuss situations informally at first will make you seem more open to discussing potential issues.

Educate yourself and your employees

Workplace harassment and discrimination can affect employee productivity and create a hostile work environment. It is advisable to offer discrimination and harassment education for all staff, to ensure that everyone is aware of what constitutes discriminatory behaviour.

firms with the most developed diversity policies are 15% more likely to financially outperform firms with less of a diversity focus2

Make the consequences clear

It is essential to have a clear and visible anti-discrimination policy. This will not only empower potential victims to speak out if they have an issue, but it will ensure that everyone knows the consequences of workplace discrimination.

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1. insidehousing.co.uk/eight-shocking-statistics-why-our-survey-on-discrimination-and-harassment-is-necessary
2. publicfinance.co.uk/workplace-discrimination-costs-uk-ps127bn
3. gov.uk/employer-preventing-discrimination
4. independent.co.uk/uk-workers-age-discrimination-common

This information is provided for the purposes of general interest and is not intended to apply to specific circumstances. Reasonable steps have been taken to check accuracy at the time of writing but we make no representation as to future accuracy. This information does not constitute legal or regulatory advice. We are not qualified to provide, and will not provide, legal or regulatory advice. We recommend that you obtain your own such specific legal or regulatory advice on matters such as discrimination from relevant professional advisers.