New rules on workplace harassment and discrimination could put firms at risk of court action unless human resources staff receive training to recognise and avoid it.
A leading West Midland employment lawyer has advised employers to make sure managers get specialist training to avoid unknowingly committing acts that break the law relating to racial and other forms of harassment.
Sally Morris, a partner at MFG Solicitors and head of the firm’s employment law division, said a recent decision in the Employment Appeals Tribunal had provided a clear outline of harassment which constituted discrimination in employment.
“Harassment as a stand-alone claim of discrimination is a relatively recent development into UK legislation following the implementation of European Directives into our domestic law in recent years.
“It was previously more difficult for employees to claim they had been subject to discriminatory harassment, having to rely on case law or the civil provisions under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
“Now the Employment Appeals Tribunal has handed down a judgment which comprehensively details the requirements of a harassment claim.
The tribunal held that a remark made by an employer to a female employee of Indian ethnic origin referring to the possibility of her being “married off in India” had the effect of violating her dignity and constituted harassment under the Race Relations Act 1976.
It set out the considerations of a harassment claim, which will be useful guidance for employers embarking on eradicating discrimination and harassment within their organisation.
“An employer can be liable if the effect of the conduct produced the consequence of violating dignity or creating an offensive, intimidating or hostile environment – even if it were not the purpose of the conduct.
“It must be found reasonable that the employee felt or perceived his or her dignity to have been violated.”