Too often equality and diversity training is considered a ‘tick-box’ exercise for employers, often as part of an induction programme, without heeding out reminders to refresh that training.
Why is equality and diversity training important?
A recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) case has reinforced our pleas, reminding employers of the need to update their equality training if they want to have a chance of defending themselves from claims arising from the otherwise unlawful discriminatory act of an employee.
To recap, employers can successfully defend harassment claims if they can demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps to prevent discriminatory actions of an employee. Tribunals will look at how effective the steps taken by the employer might be, how effective they actually were and when those steps were taken.
Allay (UK) Limited v Gehlen – race discrimination
In the case of Allay (UK) Limited v Gehlen the EAT did just that and upheld a finding that an employer had failed to take all reasonable steps to avoid an employee being regularly harassed by another, and could not rely on “stale” equality and diversity training.
By way of background Mr Gehlen complained that, after he had been dismissed, he had been subjected to racial harassment by a fellow employee during his employment. An investigation established that the other employee had made racist comments, which the employee tried to justify as being “racial banter”.
The tribunal found that not only had the employee made racist comments, but importantly, these had been overheard by Mr Gehlen’s colleagues and two managers. None of them took any action, although one manager issued the employee with a mild rebuke.
Allay tried to say it had taken all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment by pointing to its equal opportunity policy and an anti-bullying and harassment procedure, and that the relevant employees had received equality and diversity training in January 2015 and bullying and harassment training in February 2015.
That wasn’t enough; the tribunal said the training was clearly “stale” and a reasonable step would have been to refresh it. This was evident by the fact that the racial “banter” and inaction by managers took place after the initial training, demonstrating it had no impact in changing behaviours. It was also notable that, following the investigation, Allay had given further training to the employee who made the remarks and clearly wouldn’t have done so if they hadn’t thought it would be of benefit.
Review, refresh and repeat your diversity and equality training
Most of us accept that having equal opportunity policies and procedures are a bare minimum but employers cannot rely on them as a ‘get out of jail free card’ - they don’t mean employers can escape liability for acts of discrimination carried out by employees. Even having training on those policies and procedures might be insufficient if employers don’t consider the quality of that training, including how long they expect its consequences to last.
Most prudent employers will have an ongoing training programme and will consider the need to review, refresh and repeat training, particularly equality and diversity training on a regular basis. Repeating it annually, to avoid it becoming “stale” might be the way forward. Ignoring the impact of this case could prove costly, both reputationally and in the event claims are brought.
We can provide you with guidance and support
Continuous training and development is key to improving your working practices and employee relations.
To discuss your existing training requirements, including diversity and equality, please contact Helen Hughes or another member of the employment team. Our team of legal experts will listen to your needs and can create a tailored training service accordingly.
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