How to Handle Workplace Discrimination

May 10, 2022

No employer wants to have to deal with discrimination in their workplace. Situations like these can cause a huge amount of tension amongst employees, as well as sometimes involve costly ongoing legal battles. It’s vital that complaints are handled correctly and sensitively, to ensure employees are looked after and also to make sure the business is following the law at all times.

In the UK, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone in a workplace because of their age, gender reassignment, marriage status, disability, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or if they are pregnant or on maternity leave. If any employee feels they have been discriminated against in the workplace, they have a right to lodge a complaint.

Our guide sets out the steps you should take to effectively deal with workplace discrimination. And remember, Vero HR’s employment law services can give you the peace of mind that your employment legal needs will be taken care of, minimising your legal costs and taking care of your employees. We can provide the necessary support for your organisation if you ever have to handle discrimination in the workplace.

Listen Respectfully

It’s important to keep an open mind when an employee comes to you with a discrimination complaint. You might find it difficult to believe that such a situation could have happened within your organisation, but you should refrain from coming to any conclusions without first thoroughly investigating the matter.

You should never punish the person who has lodged the complaint. An employee who is making a complaint about discrimination will probably feel quite vulnerable and maybe even scared. You should listen to them with respect and treat them compassionately. You should assure them that you will do everything required to deal with the situation. This will help to give them peace of mind that the complaint will be handled correctly.

Follow Your Organisation’s Policies

You should always ensure you’re following your organisations policies for handling a discrimination complaint. You will first need to ask the employee if they’re making an informal or formal complaint.

If the employee is just making an informal complaint, you may be able to reach a resolution without taking formal procedures. If the complaint is regarding another employee’s behaviour, talk to them about it and take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Discuss what has been done with the employee that made the complaint and monitor the outcome. It may be that more formal action is required if the discrimination happens again.

If and when the employee makes a formal complaint, you should check your organisation’s guidelines for how to properly handle the situation. This is also sometimes known as a ‘grievance procedure’. The employee should submit the complaint in writing and then an investigation should take place. If the employee is not happy about the outcome of the grievance procedure, they will be able to make an appeal.

Whether formal or informal, you should always take the complaint seriously and take action to put things right. Failure to do so could result in an employment tribunal.

Investigate the Situation

Your investigation into the complaint should involve interviewing everyone who is involved in the matter. This should include the people who are directly affected as well as anyone who may have been witness to what happened. You should analyse people’s answers to see where they agree and where their statements differ. This should help you come to a conclusion of what happened. Where possible, you should ask to see evidence, for example, emails or messages that were sent that may have been discriminatory.

You should ensure a written record of everything is kept. This includes what employees have said when questioned, what actions have been taken and why, and if an employee makes an appeal after the outcome. Everything should be kept confidential throughout the investigation.

You should also ensure you are fair and objective with everyone who is involved. You should remember that you are not trying to prove guilt or innocence, but instead are trying to get a true and balanced account of what happened.

Take Appropriate Action

At the end of the investigation, appropriate actions should be recommended.

It may be that formal action is required. This could involve a disciplinary hearing, major changes to the organisation’s policies or procedures, or further investigation into other matters that have come to light.

It could be that informal action is required instead. This could involve equality and anti-discrimination training for employees and counselling for the affected employee. It may be that mediation is required between the employees that have been involved in the matter. In the case of informal action, you should ensure that it is communicated that formal action may still be taken if the situation continues with no change.

If no action is required, you may still need to provide support for the people involved. You should offer counselling and even mediation to try to rectify the situation and make sure everyone is able to work comfortably.

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