By Matt Cann, Digital Marketing Manager at Fisher Jones Greenwood

Preventing discrimination in the workplace is important, not only to protect employees, but also to reduce the risk of costly employment disputes.

In this article we’ll be highlighting five steps employers should take to minimise the risk of discrimination in the workplace.

Understanding discrimination

Discrimination occurs when an employee is treated less favourably than others because of a ‘protected characteristic’. The ‘protected characteristics’ include: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

The act of discrimination encompasses a variety of different offences, including:

Direct Discrimination - where, because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others.

Indirect Discrimination - where acts, decisions or policies have the effect of disadvantaging a group of people with a particular protected characteristic, whether or not it is the employer’s intention to cause that disadvantage.

Harassment - where a person engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, either with the effect of violating another person's dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that other person.

Victimisation - where one person considers bringing a claim on any of the above grounds and is subjected to a detriment because of it.

Instructing - causing, inducing and aiding discrimination.

With the above in mind, here are five things employers can do to minimise the risk of discrimination claims in the workplace.

1. Review employment policies

At the very least, employers should have a disciplinary procedure, code of conduct and grievance procedure in place. It is also advisable that policies for equal opportunities and data protection, among others, be addressed within your company’s employment policies.

If you need help understanding or implementing any of these policies or procedures, the ACAS website offers lots of good, free, advice.

2. Educate management and staff

Staff training should be undertaken regularly, to ensure procedures are cemented within and across the business. This can be done internally through your HR department, or externally with the help of a specialist consultancy. It doesn't matter which of these options you choose, so long as your employees understand your policies and procedures, and know what is expected of them with regard to behaving in a non-discriminatory way at work.

3. Investigate employee complaints and grievances thoroughly

It is crucial that your procedure for dealing with complaints and grievances properly reflects your policy documents, and that you follow these procedures rigidly, and apply them consistently in all situations.

4. Keep records

Keep detailed records and notes of any situation you encounter, including minuting and writing up all meetings and telephone calls. These notes will act as important evidence, should problems escalate.

5. Ensure access to all

Even the smallest of changes to a working environment can make big differences to employees. For example, disabled employees will likely find designated disabled parking bays easier to access, while sufferers of back problems would benefit from ergonomic chairs or sit/stand desks. Small changes such as these can help prevent the breakdown of confidence and trust between employee and employer that often lead to constructive dismissal claims.

As this article highlights, for employers, dealing with discrimination in the workplace is as much about prevention as it is reaction. Whether your business employs 1 or 1,000 staff, it is crucial that you address all of the points within this article, and continually review policies and procedures regularly. If in any doubt, it is best to consult an experienced solicitor for advice..