Every June, Pride Month is celebrated around the world in tribute to individuals who took part in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. With events typically taking place throughout the summer, Pride Month celebrates LGBTQ+ communities and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion across the globe.
As we kick off this year’s Pride Month, it’s a good opportunity for employers to reflect on how effectively they support diversity and inclusion in their workplace. Not only can building a diverse and inclusive culture help you to attract talent and boost productivity, innovation and morale amongst your workforce, but it can help you to avoid facing legal action by your staff if you get things wrong. To help you get started, we’ve set out the legal position for employers below, along with some tips to help you engender an inclusive culture in your workplace.
Equality and the law
Your staff have the right to be treated fairly, which means not being discriminated against or harassed on the basis of a protected characteristic, including their sexual orientation or gender reassignment.
Discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently on the basis of a protected characteristic. It can either be direct (eg an employee is not offered a promotion because they are a trans woman) or indirect, where one of your business’s practices or policies puts staff members with a particular protected characteristic at a disadvantage when compared to others.
Harassment occurs when a staff member is subjected to unwanted behaviour on the basis of a protected characteristic, which makes them feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. For example, if some of your employees repeatedly make offensive comments about another member of staff’s sexuality, which makes that staff member feel humiliated and anxious about being in the workplace, this is likely to be harassment.
As an employer, you have a specific legal duty to ensure that your staff are not discriminated against or harassed at work. It’s important to take your legal duty seriously to protect both your staff and your business’s reputation. You can be sued in an employment tribunal for harassing or discriminating against a staff member, or for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent one of your employees discriminating against or harassing another member of staff. This means that it’s really important for you to take positive and proactive steps to protect equality, diversity and inclusion in your workplace. We’ve set out some examples of how to do this below.
Practical steps to support an inclusive workplace
1. Put in place an up-to-date equal opportunities policy
It is good practice (although not legally required) to put in place an equal opportunities policy and make sure it’s kept up-to-date. This should set out your business’s commitment to treating all staff and job applicants equally and prohibiting your staff from acts of unlawful discrimination whilst at work. Note that if you have a policy in place, you must abide by it.
Our staff handbook has a template equal opportunities policy that you can generate as a standalone policy or as part of a handbook.
2. Put in place an up-to-date anti-bullying and harassment policy
It is also good practice (although not legally required) to put in place a standalone anti-bullying and harassment policy, keeping it under review and refreshed at appropriate intervals. This should work alongside your general grievance procedure to set out your business’s approach to bullying and harassment in the workplace and how you will deal with any complaints that are made. It should set out what behaviours constitute bullying and harassment and how any complaints will be dealt with.
Our staff handbook has a template anti-bullying and harassment policy that you can generate as a standalone policy or as part of a handbook.
3. Provide training to your staff
It’s important to provide regular training to your staff to ensure they are alive to issues of equality and diversity in the workplace, including those concerning unconscious bias and discrimination, and the benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workforce. Not only will this make sure that they have read and understood your workplace policies and procedures, but it will also help you to demonstrate that you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment occurring. Importantly, equality and diversity training should not simply be a box ticking exercise, but it should be comprehensive and refreshed at appropriate intervals.
If you don’t have a bespoke training programme set up, ACAS offers free eLearning modules.
4. Deal with complaints seriously
If you receive a complaint about bullying, harassment or discrimination in the workplace, you should take the matter very seriously and respond promptly, applying your usual grievance procedure.
If, during the course of your investigations, you uncover a disciplinary offence (ie because another member of staff is responsible for the alleged harassment), you must follow your usual disciplinary procedure.
See our Q&A for guidance about conducting disciplinary and grievance procedures.
5. Champion diversity and inclusion at every stage of the employment relationship
It’s important to be alive to issues of discrimination, harassment and unconscious bias at every stage of the employment relationship. For example, you may wish to:
- organise regular catch-ups between your staff and their line managers to build positive working relationships;
- provide mentors and/or staff networks to provide support; and/or
- monitor equality and diversity during recruitment processes to keep equality of opportunity under review.
More generally, putting in place clear and transparent procedures, keeping records of why decisions were made and setting the tone from the top will help to ensure that you act fairly, reduce bias and create an inclusive culture.
Finally, if you receive any complaints about harassment or discrimination, or if you receive negative feedback in exit interviews about your workplace culture, these might be red flags that your existing mechanisms are not enough. Use this as a prompt to review your processes and policies and to consider refreshing staff training on what is and is not acceptable behaviour.