It’s totally understandable that many employers faced with thinking about getting back to the business as we start to move into the Covid-19 recovery might feel like heading for the hills.
Expect the unexpected
Richard Owen, Society Matters’ employment law and discrimination specialist, recommends that businesses need to plan hard – expect the unexpected and do your best to think about all of the eventualities in advance – and to get advice about anything you aren’t sure about to help you to make socially responsible decisions that get the best outcomes for the staff as well as the business.
“It’s a challenging time for everyone, but employers have to shoulder responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of their staff as well as their customers, so there’s a lot to think about. Then of course none of us have been here before – we’re in un-chartered territories which makes it that much harder.”
So here’s our 10 point checklist to get you started
1. Can the business afford to continue to operate with all the pre-lockdown workforce or will redundancies have to be considered? We’re living in uncertainty at the moment, so the more clarity you have on this point the better – try to make this decision sooner rather than later, then do everything you can to stick to it. It may be that you have to start from determining the minimum essential workforce you will need to continue to carry out the business function and work from there.
2. Should you start discussions with the continuing workforce over terms and conditions (including temporary changes until things pick up to near pre-lockdown levels)? Consultation is key, so the earlier you start these conversations the easier it will be for everyone involved.
3. How will the way you manage the business day to day need to change, in the short and possibly even the long term, and how would you expect these changes to affect your staff?
4. Can you change working practices to enable more homeworking, and if this will improve business viability what investments might you need to make to improve access to IT and telephony? Can you start talking to your suppliers now to evaluate some options?
5. What changes will you need to make to your policies and procedures associated with staff and safety if you do plan to change your working practices?
6. If homeworking isn’t practical for some or all of the time, what social distancing and health measures need to be put in place in your workplace to ensure you provide a safe working environment (think about the layout of work stations and furniture, machinery, break out areas, public face to face areas/interview rooms, washing and hand sanitising facilities). Check the latest government HSE guidelines for safe working so you cover every aspect.
7. Think about the adjustments that may need to be made or altered in respect of any disabled employees, and also for staff with health conditions which do not amount to a disability under the Equality Act, as well as staff with caring responsibilities and pregnant women. Talking openly to the staff who may be affected is definitely a good starting point as they are highly likely to be able to help you to understand the barriers they may face that you may not even have considered.
8. You’ll also need to consider whether restrictions on use of public transport could affect staff getting to and from work. Can you provide some flexibility on start and finish times, and help people to consider alternative forms of transport such as bike or car (do you have car parking space you could offer to staff that previously wouldn’t have been available)?
9. There’s no doubt that for lots of reasons you will encounter employees who are reluctant or refuse to return to work because of their concerns about becoming infected. How are you going to anticipate this and what policies can you put in place to alleviate their concerns and support them with their transition?
10. Back the first point. Now you’ve considered all of this, what are the practical, logistical and importantly the financial implications of the decisions you’ve now made, and what help or advice do you need to make further progress with your plans?
If you need to talk through any of your concerns, or get advice on employment and discrimination issues to help you to make the right decisions to get back to business please get in touch with Richard and the team here at Society Matters cic.
Work should be a rewarding environment. Yes, we all have bad days, but if you have a job with supportive colleagues and managers you should expect to be happy in your work most of the time. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Some employees may end up facing unfair treatment at work, and this can have a negative impact on both their physical and mental health as well as making the workplace a difficult place to be, no matter how generously they may be paid for what they do.
When you are facing unfair treatment at work it can take a while to realise that it’s not you that’s the problem but the person or people handing out the unfair treatment. It’s also sometimes not so easy to recognise that the way you’re being treated may actually be classed as discrimination, and is therefore against the law.
We talked this through with Richard Owen, our Job Law Employment and Discrimination Specialist who has over 35 years’ experience in this field, and Associate Employment Solicitor Azra Choudry, who has recently joined Richard to help people facing challenges with their employment. We asked Richard and Azra about how to spot unfair treatment in the workplace, and this is what they had to say:
Unfair treatment at work – and when is this discrimination?
We live in a diverse and vibrant society and our law recognises these differences, giving everyone a right to be protected equally under the Equality Act 2010. This legislation defines the nine ‘protected characteristics’ as:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
If you think you are being unfairly treated, and this has anything to do with any of these protected characteristics, chances are you are being discriminated against at work.
How to spot unfair treatment at work and what to do next
Richard and Azra describe how unfair treatment at work can stem from small issues relating to the way your Manager or colleagues interact with you.
Types of unfair treatment in the workplace can include:
- Bullying (e.g. being shouted at or humiliated in front of colleagues);
- Being given an excessive workload;
- Being expected to achieve unrealistic targets;
- Exclusion from team activities, meetings and challenges;
- Being picked on or singled out by Managers or colleagues;
- Not being given the opportunity to participate in training or personal development.
If you notice you are being treated differently at work compared with other employees you should raise your concerns with your employer, but Richard and Azra also suggest you might find it helpful to follow these guidelines first:
1) check your contract – make sure you are familiar with your employment contract to understand what it is you agreed upon starting your employment and what has happened since;
2) keep a record – if you feel you are being treated unfairly make sure you keep a record of dates, emails, texts and events that may help you if you need to prove your case in the future;
3) act quickly but not on the spur of the moment – whilst you should act as quickly as possible when you feel you are being mistreated we would advise against resigning immediately without getting advice first. You should always consider making a formal grievance to your employer to try to resolve the issues. If you do feel you have to resign make sure you explain the reasons in writing.
Am I being discriminated against?
Sometimes the motive behind the unfair treatment can relate to one of more of the protected characteristics that we mentioned earlier, and in that case it may be classed as discrimination. For example,
One of the most common forms of discrimination found in the workplace relates to disability. According to research carried out by Scope, the disability equality charity in England and Wales, a staggering 48% of survey participants were unware of their rights as disabled employees. The report also goes on to say that 1 in 4 also believed they had missed out on securing a job due to their condition or impairment.
A report from the Young Women’s Trust also outlines issues like gender discrimination to be a lot more common within the workplace than you might think. For example 23% of woman aged 16 – 30 admitted that they had faced sexual harassment at work but only 8% of these women reported their situation.
The Race at Work report published findings that showed 28% of employees from Black, Asian and Minority Ethic (BAME) backgrounds had experienced racial harassment or bullying from their manager in the last five years.
If you think you are experiencing some of these issues or other unfair treatment associated with the nine protected characteristics, and wonder whether you may have a potential discrimination case against your employer, Azra suggests that it is always best to compare how you are being treated against other colleagues without your protected characteristic first. Ask yourself, compared to my colleagues …
1. Am I being treated unfairly?
2. What is the reason for the treatment?
3. Am I being treated differently to others?
4. Am I being put at a disadvantage compared to others?
5. Is there a direct link, or explicit words or actions, connecting the treatment and my protected characteristic e.g. specifically relating to gender, race, disability etc.
6. Is there another plausible explanation for the treatment?
If, having considered these points, you think the unfair treatment is due to your protected characteristics you should read this article from Citizens Advice which provides you a clear 3 step plan on what to do next if you think you are being discriminated against at work.
Seek Advice from Job Law
If you feel like you have experienced unfair treatment or discrimination in the workplace you may want to talk it through with an employment law specialist before you take action. Richard Owen and Azra Choudry are here to help.
Get in touch today at firstname.lastname@example.org