Written by Heidi Wadsworth

24th February 2021

Equality, diversity and inclusion training supports a positive culture and helps reduce the risk of discrimination or harassment in the workplace. It shouldn’t be a “tick box exercise” or something that is reserved for new starters. A recent employment tribunal served as a reminder to employers to keep this training up to date.

The case followed a racial harassment claim where the employer sought to use the “reasonable steps” defence – relying on the fact that the employees involved had received equality and diversity training. However, this training took place two years ago, and the employer’s defence failed. Read the full judgement here.

What is a reasonable steps defence?

In a case like this, an employer has a defence if it can show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee committing an act of harassment or discrimination. One of these steps is ensuring employees have undergone equality and diversity training.

Here, the employer’s reasonable steps were rejected because the training was now ‘stale’ and ineffective.

What are some reasonable steps?

Review, refresh and repeat your training

Equality and Diversity training is essential in helping to ensure cases like these do not happen. As well as awareness for all members of staff, they’ll help managers to recognise possible harassment situations and give them the information they need to handle harassment issues if they do arise.

But when was the last time you reviewed it? Businesses change and people forget, so holding your training sessions or workshop annually will avoid it becoming ‘stale’ and give staff a refresher. Ignoring it could prove costly, both reputationally and in the event claims are made.

Our Equality and Diversity training will cover the legal basics as well as providing practical tips to make your organisation a more diverse and inclusive workplace. We can offer live webinar training, delivered by our experience Trainer, for up to 20 employees at a time, or e-learning videos for your employees, which make a cost-effective refresher option.

Both options will give your staff a solid understanding of the law surrounding equality, diversity, harassment and bullying.

Appropriate policies

Having equal opportunity policies and procedures is a bare minimum but employers cannot rely on them as a ‘get out of jail free card’. These policies should be kept up to date and reviewed regularly, as well as implemented effectively. This could be by allocating the responsibility of monitoring each one to your management team.

The policies you need to think about include an equal opportunities policy, anti-harassment and bullying policy (and potentially a separate sexual harassment policy), and possibly an email, internet and social media policy (which covers discrimination and harassment issues).

Communication to employees

Employees need to be aware of policies and procedures involved with equal opportunities and also the potential consequences of breaching these policies.

Inform your managers and employees about how you expect them to behave and about the importance of complying with your policies. Do not rely on what’s written in a handbook, make sure you speak to your employees too and check that they know what you expect of them.

This could be carried out in regular 1-2-1s, staff surveys and exit interviews – having an open door policy is also a good idea. You should use these to help you understand where any potential issues lie and whether the steps you are taking are working.

Effectively dealing with complaints

Dealing effectively with complaints is an important reasonable step, as is taking appropriate disciplinary action in response to policy breaches. Showing you will pick up an issue as early as possible is vital, as is your reassurance from the outset that staff will be listened to and heard.

It’s a must to take complaints of harassment or discrimination seriously and let staff see that they are investigated fairly and in line with your company’s discrimination, harassment and disciplinary and grievance procedures. Don’t hesitate to take disciplinary action where it is warranted. Have a zero-tolerance policy – it may deter others from committing further acts of discrimination and harassment.

Employees also need know where to report incidents and feel confident in doing so – you should encourage your team to seek HR support.

You may now have realised the importance of effective equality training for all employees. If you need any help to review equality and diversity policies or require training for your teams, please do not hesitate to get in touch at training@realityhr.co.uk.