Equality and diversity in the workplace is good for business.  A diverse workforce allows an employer to draw on a wide range of skills and perspectives; it can help in the retention of staff, with future recruitment and enhancing the reputation of the business.

Despite legislative protection, under-reporting of discrimination continues to be a problem.  The reasons for the lack of reporting include fear that the employer will not take action to resolve the problem, a lack of appropriate reporting procedures and inexperienced, unsupportive managers.

Being committed to promoting equality and diversity is not simply about legal compliance, but about developing an inclusive and supportive culture.

What steps can an employer take to improve the workplace culture for LGBT+ staff?

A good starting point is looking at your policies and procedures.  Ensure that policies and procedures are inclusive of LGBT staff.  For example, ensure that all family friendly policies, such as maternity and shared parental leave, are explicitly inclusive of same gender partners.

Although there is no legal requirement to have an equal opportunities policy, it is good practice to have one in place.  Employers might also want to have an anti-harassment and bullying policy.  Having such policies in place may assist an employer on defending a discrimination claim.  However, it is not enough simply to have policies in place; they need to be implemented effectively.

To do this, employers should raise staff awareness of its policies, provide regular training to all staff and take appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrators of discrimination.

When communicating your policies use a variety of communication methods and channels, for example through the intranet, during the induction process, in team meetings and through training.   Ensure staff read and understand your policies.

Training should be provided to ensure all employees understand both the company’s obligations and their own personal responsibilities to treat colleagues with respect.  The training should not only cover the standards of behaviour expected of all staff, but an outline of the law and how to report any discriminatory conduct.

Managers will require further specific training to understand their role in promoting equality and diversity in the workplace and to ensure that they are confident enough to challenge any form of inappropriate behaviour.

It is good practice to keep records of who has undergone training and ensure that this is refreshed at regular intervals.  If training is not refreshed an employer may not be able to successfully argue that it took all ‘reasonable steps’ to avoid being vicariously liable for discriminatory acts carried out by any of its employees.  This is illustrated in the case of Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen.  The employer was unable to rely on the “reasonable steps” defence to a harassment claim as its equality and diversity training was held to be “stale”, having been delivered 20 months before the harassment.   

Fear of victimisation is one barrier to reporting discrimination.  Therefore, it is important for employers that they take complaints of discrimination seriously.  This includes fully investigating complaints and concerns raised, support employees who raise complaints, taking appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrators of discrimination, regardless of their level of seniority, and taking measures to address workplace issues that become apparent.

Ellisons’ provide in-house training and if you need assistance with the provision or review of any training, or any other advice or assistance, you can contact one of our specialist Employment Law Solicitors today on 01473 556900 or email us at [email protected].