How to prevent and deal with workplace discrimination
It’s not just businesses that take a big hit when workplace discrimination happens, be it direct or indirect victimisation. Narrowing it down to just the hidden and lost opportunity costs of bullying, Australian employers collectively lose up to $35 billion every year.
The Fair Work Ombudsman defines workplace discrimination as an adverse action against a current, past, or would-be employee based on that person’s:
- Race, colour, gender, religion, or marital status
- Sexual orientation
- Physical or mental disability
- Family or carer’s responsibilities as well as pregnancy
- Political opinion
- Social origin or national extraction.
Professionals from blue-collar families have been shown to experience more discrimination in the workplace, according to research. This can also have an impact on their performance evaluations, and pay rises as well as promotions. This group has to put up with more harassment, discrimination, and exclusions at work than their peers from higher classes, says the Diversity Council of Australia.
Workplace discrimination in action
Workplace discrimination can take the form of unlawful discrimination, bullying, or harassment. So, what does the ombudsman consider ‘adverse actions’? That’s when they use the above dot points as an excuse to threaten, carry out or organise for the person to be:
- Injured in the line of their work
- Disadvantaged due to altering their job description
- Not hired
- Not recruited because of unfair terms and conditions in the employment offer.
For example, you can indirectly discriminate against a current or prospective staff member when you declare they must work weekends despite having family responsibilities.
The risk for taking an ‘adverse action’ that’s unlawful is a maximum penalty of $66,000 for a company or $13,320 per contravention for an individual. The relevant law is the Fair Work Act 2009. The courts could also order injunctions, insist the person be reinstated and/or compensated.
Thwart discrimination in its tracks
Here’s what your business can do to help stamp out workplace discrimination before it happens and after:
- Induct recruits with a formal mentoring program that upholds a strong, anti-discriminatory work culture
- Train staff as well as managers in how to prevent, identify and deal with discrimination
- Encourage employees to respect each other’s differences
- Deal promptly with complaints or evidence about bad behaviour
- Create, refine and regularly review your company’s policy. Include a clear statement to resolve disputes about discrimination as soon as possible
- Enforce and monitor your policy adequately, such as with a workplace culture audit
- Be on the lookout for how you improve your processes and practices.
More inclusive practices
Be sure your company is taking steps to prevent workplace discrimination, instead appreciate diversity and inclusion. Examine your practices – entry and exit interviews may help pinpoint issues. What are your procedures if something goes wrong? Do they span processes for bystanders’ responses, management interventions, your HR team’s actions, retraining the instigator, your company strategies, and debriefing processes?
In your review after an adverse event, consider an emerging ‘tolerance model’ of diversity training. That’s when you accept staff have a right to hold and express their values, and you obligate them to discuss differing values, but without superiority claims. So, that way, they’re not pressured to endorse values that clash with their own.
An essential layer of protection
Once your business has strong strategies, policies, and practices to keep workplace discrimination in check, you’re well on the way to minimising your risk profile. Your next step is to chat with us to organise customised employment practices liability or management liability insurance. This protects your business, its directors, officer-holders, and managers against claims from past, current, or would-be employees (and possibly volunteers) for:
- Wrongful dismissal, including whistleblowing
- Breach of employment contract
- Other employment-associated common law violations or torts.
Typically, this cover protects your business regarding damages, compensation, judgements, claimants’ costs, and defence costs.
With the increase in workplace discrimination claims against companies, and the risk of damaging your brand, it pays to improve your approach continuously. Insurance cover offers that extra peace of mind.