Sexism in the workplace, despite legislation introduced over the years in order to eradicate it, still poses a problem and even large high profile employers are at times caught out by the actions of their staff. Remember the comments of Ron Atkinson against a female assistant referee? And Andy Gray’s alleged apparent prejudice against a female Sky Sports reporter? What some people see as ‘harmless’ jokes or casual banter is another person’s bullying/harassment.
The Equality Act 2010 includes mechanisms to punish incidents of discrimination in the workplace. A successful sex discrimination claim at tribunal, can result in compensation which is unlimited. that can be awarded for a successful claim. Under the vicarious liability provisions, where an employer cannot show that it took measures to ensure discrimination does not occur in his workplace, the employer will also be held responsible for compensation for discrimination in respect of a matter of which he had no control or knowledge.
Sexism, or sex discrimination, can take many forms in the workplace. The most obvious kind – direct discrimination – occurs when a member of one sex is treated less favourably than a member of the other sex, and the reason for the treatment is on account of their gender. Indirect discrimination refers to the situation where a rule (a ‘provision, criterion or practice’) is applied equally to everyone but that rule puts or would put, for example, a man at a particular disadvantage compared with a woman.
Subjecting a man or woman to a detriment because he/she has done something, or it is believed he/she has or may do something with reference to discrimination legislation is classed as ‘victimisation’, and ‘harassment’ is unwanted conduct related to a person’s sex which has the purpose of violating dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
An equal opportunities policy is vital as evidence to a tribunal that your organisation does not accept any behaviour which has a discriminatory impact. Remember, a discriminatory impact is not always intentional and so training on the operation of the policy is also vital. Give all of your employees – not just your managers – training on examples of discrimination and be careful to include examples of indirect discrimination. Focus specifically on harassment and make the point that ‘jokes’ and gentle name calling can lead to claims of discrimination because the key is perception i.e. how the ‘joke’ is taken by the person who is the target.
Use your disciplinary procedures to deal with any offenders and take complaints seriously. Use your grievance or personal harassment procedure to deal with them and take advice on the appropriate sanctions.
For further advice and guidance on the issue then please contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.