Can diversity training cause discrimination rather than prevent it?
Yes, if not handled with care. As an employer you will generally be liable in law for any discriminatory actions perpetrated by your staff in the course of their employment. So, if a manager discriminates against one of their team, you may be left to foot the bill. You can minimise the risk of it happening and strengthen your defence against claims by implementing training on equality and diversity.
In Georges v Pobl Group Limited, Ms Georges was the only black person out of a group of 16 employees who attended equality and diversity training. During an exercise about using discriminatory words, the trainer asked each attendee to shout out the most derogatory and offensive words that they could think of. The trainer wrote two racially offensive words on the board including the N word. Ms Georges who was going through induction, was shocked. She left, was signed off sick and didn't return after her grievance was dismissed.
A tribunal upheld her claim of racial harassment because encouraging the use of discriminatory words was 'crude and unnecessary'. In addition, the word that offended Ms Georges is, by its very nature, a 'deeply loaded and offensive word with distressing racial connotations'. How can you avoid the same mistake?
Interactive exercises are a good way to encourage your staff to consider the impact that offensive words can have on others. However, you must think carefully about the format. Actively encouraging staff to use offensive words in a group setting would run counter to your message that those words should not be used. Be sensitive to the manner in which the message is delivered.
Dismissing a mentally ill employee for failing to attend meetings constituted discrimination
An NHS trust was found to have discriminated against, and unfairly dismissed, a mentally ill employee when it sacked him for failing to attend a sickness absence meeting and occupational health appointments. It was also criticised for its 'appalling response' to its employee's e-mail revealing that he was contemplating suicide. Flemming v East of England Ambulance Services NHS Trust.
When employees refuse to cooperate with your sickness absence reporting process, their colleagues and managers can become frustrated and impatient causing you to act hastily. How should you approach it?
Use your policies for guidance not instruction
Don't be fettered by your own internal policies. Consider going beyond what is required by them, for example by arranging for external mediation or by assisting the employee with an application for ill-health retirement.