We have particular expertise and experience in dealing with the wide range of discrimination and harassment claims. Like all other types of claims, we help you prevent them happening but, if an Employment Tribunal claim cannot be deterred, we will help you defend them vigorously.
That is particularly important where the potential awards against employers (and the employees involved) can run to six or seven figures, and where reputational damage can be immense.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are effectively liable for the acts of their employees, regardless of whether they knew or approved what is done. That is unless they can establish the defence that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination or harassment occurring.
Implementing a positive work environment
In addition to helping an employer establish a defence, given that individuals can be sued personally for their alleged discriminatory acts in the workplace, all members of staff will benefit from training.
In the workplace, the starting point is to have clear contracts and policies establishing what constitutes harassment and discrimination, that it will not be tolerated and how to deal with it appropriately if it arises. However, having documents in place will not be considered as ‘all reasonable steps’. You are likely to need to give evidence of training and implementation of those policies in the workplace.
We can provide training for your managers and workforce more widely. We do not advocate political correctness, but increased awareness and understanding of the issues tends to alter behaviours and debate over what or is not political correctness tends to lose any relevance.
Investigating and defending claims
When allegations of discrimination or harassment are made, it is almost always important that they are responded to quickly. (There can be rare exceptions where we have advised otherwise, for example where a complaint is made after a long delay and, for tactical purposes, a further delay might help in later defence of formal proceedings. Do not adopt such a strategy unless without specific advice.)
Investigation needs to be sensitive and balanced, adopting an open mind and showing fairness to the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator. Emotions run high and even and you may have to make quick but difficult decisions about whether suspension is appropriate during the investigation and at the end of it.
If you do suspend, who do you suspend?
Do you open yourself up to further allegations of discrimination if you are seen as a knee jerk reaction to suspend a man involved but not a woman?
What do you do if you suspect the allegations are raised as a smoke screen or distraction to other issues, such as poor performance?
What action do you take where an employee makes a very serious allegation of harassment which you do not believe, but the employee has convinced him or herself it is true?
If the allegation is true, do you have to dismiss because that is what the victim asks for?
The legal issues are complex. We have dealt with all of these issues and a myriad more. Our complementary specialisms in related employment law areas of whistleblowing and equal pay only add to our expertise in the area.
Whether you have a claim now or expect a claim may arise, do not delay in seeking expert advice. We are on hand to help you deal confidently with it all.