Top 5 Practices to Prevent Workplace Discrimination

Top 5 Practices to Prevent Workplace Discrimination

Workplace discrimination may occur between colleagues, employee and employer, or between an employee and a third party. Specifically, it’s the unfair treatment of an employee or candidate based on the class or category to which they belong, rather than on individual merit.

Unfortunately, this issue is often overlooked or not spoken widely about, leaving employers and employees in the dark when it comes to dealing with discrimination. In many cases, this can also lead to employee turnovers due to a lack of effective measures to stop the problem.

Embracing cultural diversity and nurturing a fair and inclusive workplace culture is positive for your organisation and its employees, and is also the most effective way to avoid workplace discrimination and unlawful behaviour. Lawsuits are expensive and, beyond the immediate financial costs, they reduce staff productivity, wellbeing and morale. They also create reputational and brand damage.  

This guide will explain the many ways that workplace discrimination can occur (e.g., direct, indirect, intentional, unintentional and reverse). Then, you’ll learn how to identify and eliminate your own discriminatory practices. We will explain the Top 5 Practices to Prevent Workplace Discrimination from occuring in order to protect your employees and business.

This blog will provide a better understanding of the issue and important steps you need to take towards the prevention of discrimination in the workplace.

This blog will be structured as below:

  • Understanding Workplace Discrimination
  • Types of Workplace Discrimination
  • Top 5 Practices to Prevent Workplace Discrimination

Understanding Workplace Discrimination

According to the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman, Unlawful workplace discrimination occurs when an employer takes adverse action against a person who is an employee or prospective employee because of the following attributes of the person:

  • race
  • colour
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • age 
  • physical or mental disability 
  • marital status
  • family or carer’s responsibilities 
  • pregnancy
  • religion
  • political opinion
  • national extraction or social origin

Discriminatory practices can happen at different points in the employment relationship, including:

  • when recruiting and selecting staff
  • in the terms, conditions, and benefits offered as part of employment
  • who is considered or selected for promotion
  • who is considered and selected for redundancy or dismissal

The following examples demonstrate implicit and explicit workplace discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity:

  • Recruiting staff solely on their ethnicity.
  • Knowingly or subconsciously selecting candidates that don’t appear to be from a culturally or linguistically diverse (CALD) background.
  • Declaring a job applicant unsuccessful on the basis that “they won’t fit in”.
  • Making assumptions about certain ethnic groups having or lacking particular skills.
  • Failing to deal with alleged cases of racial discrimination in a timely and appropriate manner.
  • Failing to award CALD employees with promotions and career progression opportunities, despite meeting all performance expectations.
  • Having a workplace culture that makes CALD employees feel uncomfortable or excluded.
  • Encouraging or endorsing jokes based on race.
  • Earmarking CALD employees for early departure in a redundancy exercise.
  • Dismissing or indiscriminately targeting a worker due to his/her English speaking abilities.

All employers have a responsibility to make sure that their employees, and people who apply for a job with them, are treated fairly. This responsibility is set out in anti-discrimination laws such as Australia’s Fair Work Act 2009, the Equality act 2010 in the UK, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the United States.

Types of Workplace Discrimination

Direct Discrimination

Workplace discrimination can be direct, indirect or both.

Direct discrimination, also called disparate treatment occurs when someone treats (or encourages others to treat) someone else unfavorably because of their protected class.

Direct discrimination happens because of stereotypes about the abilities and qualities of those in protected classes. These stereotypes lead to unfair and untrue assumptions about what a person from a protected group can or can’t do.

This type of discrimination is often intentional and more obvious than other forms of workplace discrimination.

Indirect Discrimination

Indirect discrimination, often called disparate impact, is when a policy or condition is imposed that, as a side effect, disadvantages a protected group (or a person from one).

For example, implementing hiring criteria that just so happens to screen out women or minority group members has a disparate (and negative) impact on members of these groups.

Top 5 Practices to Prevent Workplace Discrimination

Develop an anti-discrimination policy

Companies’ anti-discrimination policies can vary widely depending on their culture and nature, however, it is important to highlight the employee’s right to work in a professional environment, where their skills, abilities, and knowledge are the most important factors in their success. Your company work policy should have zero tolerance for any form of harassment. Encourage employees to come forward and participate in the investigation, assuring they will be kept confidential (to a reasonable extent) as well as people who make complaints will be protected at all times. Having clear procedures and rules established is also a way to make managers and employees aware of acceptable workplace behaviour within your country. In case of misbehaviour, it will be easier to point to the policy than to refer to a law the employee may not have heard of.

 

Educate your workers

It is important to ensure that all employees are aware of potential discrimination issues in the workplace, have knowledge of your policies and procedures as well as how to report the allegation. It is recommended to have separate training for supervisors and managers as they are your first line of defense in preventing workplace discrimination. Also, you should strive to inform employees of the possible outcomes of discrimination, which include potential lawsuits. There are many ways to keep everybody informed and up to date about the issue, like face-to-face training, internal communications or even using visual aids in common areas to promote anti-discriminatory practices.   

 

Establish a process for resolving workplace discrimination issues

Any employee who feels they have been discriminated against or treated negatively should report the issue to Human Resources, their direct supervisor, manager or director, and they should feel comfortable and safe when doing so. In these cases, all companies must be consistent in addressing issues through a fair and reasonable investigation even if your business is not in legal jeopardy. This will show your companies’ expectations of equal and unbiased treatment among all employees. Solving workplace discrimination issues in a timely manner should be a priority as otherwise, trust and credibility may be lost.

Reduce bias in your recruitment process

Unconscious biases are stereotypes that we unintentionally have learned. They have the ability to affect our behaviour and perception of others. This is an issue that many companies may not have in mind, but a vast body of research shows that the hiring process is biased and unfair. This can frustrate diversity, recruiting, promotion, and retention efforts. Awareness training is the first step to resolve unconscious bias in the workplace, as it allows employees to recognize that everyone possesses them and to identify their own. It is also recommended to have a standardised interview process by asking candidates the same set of defined questions that allow employers to focus on the factors that have a direct impact on performance. Giving a work sample test can also be a great tool against unconscious bias as it forces recruiters to critique the quality of a candidate’s work versus judging them based on appearance, gender, age, and even personality. 

 

Consider more than one option for communication channels

An important part of the complaint process is providing effective and transparent communication channels. Ideally, have more than one option for employees to report discrimination, which will ensure that a supervisor cannot hide issues from Human Resources and upper management. Formal communication channels like an Intranet, emails, letters, or face-to-face interactions are crucial for the employee to be able to make their complaint and some even allow anonymous reports to be made in order to start an investigation. You can also consider keeping a more informal type of communication like holding lunchtime conversations and continuous collaboration among team members where you can identify potential discriminatory practices that otherwise may go unnoticed. 

Explore the Top 5 Practices to Prevent Workplace Discrimination in order to protect your employees and business

Explore the Top 5 Practices to Prevent Workplace Discrimination in order to protect your employees and business.

Embracing cultural diversity and nurturing a fair and inclusive workplace culture is positive for your organisation and its employees, and is also the most effective way to avoid workplace discrimination and unlawful behaviour.

Embracing cultural diversity and nurturing a fair and inclusive workplace culture is positive for your organisation and its employees, and is also the most effective way to avoid workplace discrimination and unlawful behaviour.

Book a Demo Now

Learn more about how Polonious can help you protect against workplace discrimination

5 Steps for Conducting a Workplace Safety Risk Assessment

5 Steps for Conducting a Workplace Safety Risk Assessment

As we discussed in an earlier blog, workplace risk assessments are powerful tools in identifying and improving workplace safety weaknesses. As such, it is important that managers know exactly how to conduct a risk assessment to create the safest possible environment for their employees. This blog will discuss 5 steps that managers should undertake to do so. 

An important distinction should first be made between a hazard and a risk.

A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm, for example chemicals, working at heights, or noise.

A risk is the likelihood that harm (death, injury or illness) might occur when exposed to a hazard.

Step 1: Identify the Hazards

The first step in conducting a risk assessment should be identifying the hazards present in your workplace. This may involve taking a walk around your workplace and looking at how activities are performed, the tools used, the work procedures and the environment. 

You should also be observing your employees as they complete their daily tasks to identify additional risks and to see if there are better ways of completing these tasks. Communicating with your employees is vital at this stage as they are the most knowledgeable on issues that you may not be aware of. 

You can also consult other professionals outside of your business, such as health and workplace safety experts and machinists, to gain more insights into any other hazards that may be present in your workplace.

Another source of information regarding potential hazards is manufacturer’s instructions or data sheets. These can be used to identify specific chemicals and equipment, putting hazards in their true perspective.

 

Step 2: Decide Who Might be Harmed and How

For each hazard identified above, you should make it clear who might be harmed. You don’t have to list individual names in the risk assessment, but you should identify groups of people like ‘people working in the storeroom’ or ‘passer-bys.’

Some considerations:

  • Some workers have particular requirements. New and young workers, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers and people with disabilities are more prone to hazards.
  • Cleaners, visitors, maintenance workers, etc, are not present at your workplace all the time.
  • Members of the public can be harmed by your activities.
  • Ask others if they can think of anyone you may have missed.  

 

Step 3: Evaluate the Risks and Decide on Precautions 

Next up is deciding on what to do in response to the hazards. An easy way of doing so involves comparing what you are doing with good practice.

Look at what controls you currently have in place and how they are organised and then compare this to good practice and see if there is more that you could be doing to bring yourself up to this standard. This may involve asking yourself the following questions:

  • Can I get rid of the hazard altogether?
  • If not, how can I control the risks so that harm is unlikely?

The following are the steps that should be undertaken to control the hazards. They are in order of when they should be undertaken, if possible:

  1. Try a less risky option (e.g. switching to a less hazardous chemical)
  2. Prevent access to the hazard 
  3. Organise work to reduce exposure to the hazard (e.g. putting barriers between pedestrians and traffic)
  4. Issue personal protective equipment (e.g. clothing, footwear, goggles)
  5. Provide welfare facilities (e.g. first aid kits and washing facilities)

The financial cost of implementing these controls are minimal in comparison to the costs that occur if an accident does happen. 

Fostering a culture that emphasises workplace safety will save on costs associated with sick pay, training staff and hiring new staff if an employee gets injured. Additionally, you will avoid fines, lawsuits, and penalties from non-compliance with occupational workplace safety laws. 

 

Step 4: Record your Findings and Implement Them

It is now time to put all your findings together in a report and share it with your employees. This will encourage you to actually put the results of your risk assessment into practice. 

This is also the time to provide additional training for changes to procedures, updates to your workplace safety policy and to remind your employees of their responsibilities in creating a safe work environment.

A timeline can be used in your risk assessment to chart your course of action, since some hazards can be fixed immediately while others may take some time. This timeline can also be used to indicate the temporary solutions in place for hazards that will take time to fully correct. You should identify, assign, and put a date on the responsibilities of those who are carrying out any changes. 

Sample templates of risk assessments are available here.

 

Step 5: Regularly Review and Update Your Risk Assessment

It is likely that things will change within your business and your environment over time. There may be changes in the products or services you provide or changes to workplace safety regulation. It is therefore imperative you also update your risk assessment to keep pace with these changes.

Questions that you should periodically ask yourself are:

  • What areas have these changes occurred?
  • Are there improvements you still need to make?
  • Have other people spotted a problem?
  • Have you learnt anything from accidents or near misses?

You should be keeping up to date with all incidents that take place in your workplace. Handle these incidents immediately and record the actions that were taken to reduce the risk of it occurring again. 

Setting a date to review and update your risk assessment every year will make it easier to place it as a priority, and demonstrate your commitment to workplace safety. 

 

Conclusion

Although different businesses will have different methods of formulating their risk assessments, there are a few basic steps that all managers should follow. These include identifying all hazards, deciding who might be harmed and how, evaluating the risks and deciding precautions, recording findings and implementing them, and regularly reviewing and updating the risk assessment. By following these steps, managers will ensure that they are creating an environment that prioritises workplace safety. 

 

Hazard Sign

A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm.

Safety Equipment

Protective equipment is one way to control hazards.

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How to Draw the Line between Tough Management and Workplace Harassment

How to Draw the Line between Tough Management and Workplace Harassment

The difference between tough management practices, which demands high performance, and a manager who harasses employees could be very subtle. Determining where a manager’s behaviour crosses the line in a way that the courts deem to be harassing could be very difficult.

The cost of these behaviours to a company in terms of stress, anxiety, absenteeism and turnover is huge. However, effective performance and behaviour management creates a harmonious and productive workplace, which is beneficial for both employees and employers.

This blog will cover how to draw the line between tough management and workplace harassment. It is best practice to follow these tips in order to protect your company, yourself and your employees and ultimately promote a positive working environment for all.

The blog will cover the following topics:

  • Defining Workplace Harassment
  • Managing Performance
  • Reasonable Management Action vs Tough Management
  • Lessons for Employers

Defining Workplace Harassment

In Australia, employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and anti-discrimination laws. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, employees are protected from bullying and harassment under the Equality Act 2010.

Learn more about the consequences of “intimidating, threatening” and disrespectful behaviour towards colleagues in the recent sacking of James Hardie CEO Jack Truong.

Managing Performance

The best businesses are always improving their operations to stay competitive in their industry. To be able to do this, employees and managers need to be performing to a high standard.

High performance in business means:

  • increased productivity
  • engaged and committed employees
  • retaining good employees.

Underperforming employees can have a negative effect on a business, such as:

  • unhappy customers or clients
  • decreased productivity
  • high turnover
  • decreased employee morale

Reasonable Management Action vs Tough Management 

At some point, every employer will need to manage an underperforming staff member. In practice, this means taking steps to deal with poor conduct, including:

  • Non-compliance with policies/procedures and other workplace requirements
  • Inappropriate, disruptive or generally bad behaviour
  • Unsatisfactory performance of work tasks

The necessary steps may range from informal performance management, where the inappropriate or unsatisfactory behaviour is brought to the staff member’s attention, through to a more formal process such as the implementation of a performance improvement plan.

Employers are not prohibited from dealing with employees that they consider are underperforming. However, care needs to be taken to avoid bullying an employee. But what is reasonable management action? 

Examples of reasonable management action may include:

  • setting reasonable performance goals, standards and deadlines
  • rostering and allocating working hours where the requirements are reasonable
  • transferring a position for operational reasons
  • deciding not to select a worker for promotion where a reasonable process is followed and documented
  • informing a worker about unsatisfactory work performance when undertaken in accordance with any workplace policies or agreements that have been communicated to the worker, such as performance management guidelines used within the company
  • informing a worker about inappropriate behaviour in an objective and confidential way
  • termination of employment.

Lessons for Employers

When making an objective assessment of the reasonableness of the management action, it is important to consider what caused the action, what circumstances were  in train while the action was taken, and what occurred as a result.

It is also important to note that there is no ‘retrospective gold standard’. Just because an employer may, in hindsight, have been able to improve on the way they undertook the action, does not necessarily mean that it was not an appropriate reasonable action at the time.

Moreover, although the staff member’s perception of a negative management action is likely to tend towards it being unreasonable, the standard is objectiveness and this is not determined by one or a group of employees’ views.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when determining whether it is legitimately harsh management practices or harassing behaviour from a legal perspective:

  1. Is the employee offended by the behaviour?
  2. Is the behaviour sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile or abusive work environment?
  3. Does the employer have and enforce policies intended to prevent unlawful harassment?
  4. Did a tangible adverse job action result from or accompany the manager’s treatment of the employee?
  5. Is the manager a senior officer of the company?
  6. Did the affected employee complain?
  7. Would a reasonable employee be offended by the behaviour?

Preventing Underperformance

According to the Fairwork Ombudsman, the best way to manage underperformance is to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place. Communication is the key. Steps that employers can take to help prevent underperformance include:

  • listing behavioural and outcome expectations in position descriptions
  • addressing any issues as soon as possible
  • having regular performance reviews to outline expectations from the beginning
  • encouraging employees to talk to a manager or employer if they have any questions or concerns.

How Polonious Can Help

Many businesses can benefit from better management practices. The polonious case management system can provide a transparent, repeatable performance management or misconduct investigation process, to ensure procedural fairness and eliminate bias. It is fully audit logged in case of any complaints or appeals. Furthermore, detailed reporting can help you identify systemic performance or misconduct issues. Polonious can also help you with ethical workplace monitoring which enables enhanced productivity, trust and legal compliance.

Understanding How to Draw the Line between Tough Management and Workplace Harassment can be very difficult.

Understanding How to Draw the Line between Tough Management and Workplace Harassment can be very difficult.

The cost of workplace harassment is huge as it leads to increased stress, anxiety, absenteeism and turnover.

The cost of workplace harassment is huge as it leads to increased stress, anxiety, absenteeism and turnover.

Effective performance and behaviour management creates a harmonious and productive workplace, which is beneficial for both employees and employers.

Effective performance and behaviour management creates a harmonious and productive workplace, which is beneficial for both employees and employers.

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Learn more about how Polonious can help you implement better management practices.

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