All Irish companies, regardless of their size, need to be aware of and address the issue of equality in their company policies. Equality legislation requires that no person is discriminated or treated in a less favourable way than another person on any of the nine grounds mentioned in the equality legislation.
Equality issues, including discrimination, remain significant in the workplace and in the course of employment. Employers therefore should have proactive measures in place to inform and protect their employees and the company. An employer is responsible for all equality issues within the workplace and should deal with equality issues, including discrimination, by having in place effective policies and procedures.
I am very proud to have worked with ISME, the independent small and medium size business organisation, and the Equality Authority on this equality guide for employers.
This guide provides companies with the necessary information in order to prevent discrimination from taking place in their workplace, through helping them to prepare their own equality policies and procedures. A business, which has the necessary equality policies in place (equality and diversity policy, equal status policy and bullying and harassment policy), has made their employees aware of the correct behaviour and provided it adheres to these policies, has a first line of defence in case of a complaint against them.
Employers are liable for anything done by an employee in the course of his or her employment, unless the employer can prove that he or she took reasonable practicable steps to prevent the discrimination. Then under vicarious liability the employer could be held responsible.
An example is where an employee discriminates against a foreign employee of the company by calling him names, referring to his country of origin. Whether this incident happened in the workplace or in a work related function outside the workplace, the employer is responsible.
If a company wants to protect itself, it will need to put in place measures to prevent discrimination, such as:
- An equality policy.
- A bullying and harassment policy.
- An equal status policy.
- Proof that employee’s received a copy of the policies or that employees had easy access to the policies and understand the policies.
- Proof that managers and supervisors were trained regarding equality.
- Proof that the policies were explained to employees and that they were made aware of and understand their responsibilities.
Once the company becomes aware of potential issues, the person designated to deal with equality should speak to the individual concerned and establish what happened, what is necessary to resolve the issue and document the discussions.
If there are breaches of the equality policies, the employees, customer or visitor can bring a claim against the business through the Equality Tribunal in the first instance or to the Rights Commissioner, Labour Court or Circuit Court.
In addition to the legal requirements, there is evidence that initiatives that promote workplace equality and foster diversity can bring significant benefits for both employees and employers. There is a positive relationship between the adoption of equality policies and employee performance outcomes, including reductions in absenteeism, labour turnover, improved employee relations and innovation and creativity. There are also positive outcomes for the employees, such as commitment, job satisfaction, life satisfaction, reduced stress, etc.
Equality in the Workplace – An Employer’s Guide will be launched on Friday 11thNovember 2011 at the ISME Business Conference, RDS, Dublin.
Campbell International has had a long association with the Equality Authority in assisting small and medium size organisation with equality issues. If you have any queries in relation to equality in the workplace please do not hesitate to contact Kenneth Buchholtz of Campbell International at 065 7071933.