Why every organisation needs to know about them
In the world of employment tribunals, you often hear about the horror stories of an organisational case that have gone wrong only after the event has taken place. What we do not see are the catalogue of errors which were allowed to take place in the run up to the pivotal moment when an employer found it impossible to say anything or not act.
I often think that if we only took a more proactive stance in our organisational learning and training half of these cases would not make it to the tribunal.
You see, humans are complex, emotional individuals and have needs which go beyond what can seem bureaucratic in terms of paperwork and policies. It is the culture within an organsiation that needs to be positive so that these breakdowns in terms of care, which then become actionable do not happen so often.
An understanding of the Protected Characteristics is crucial, not only to the policy makers and HR departments, but also to the team. This is because it is the behaviour on the metaphorical shop floor which often leads to reports of discrimination to the leadership and enforcement powers within the organisation.
It would be prudent at this point to reference to what discrimination is:
According to the United Nations it is ‘the act of making unjustified, prejudiced distinctions between people based on the groups, classes, or other categories to which they belong or are perceived to belong’ and it is illegal.
A good place to start to understand how this could impact your place of work is to take a look at the Human Rights Act 1998 which sets out the rights that everyone in the UK is entitled to and then legislation which talks about the basic rights and freedoms that people within the UK are afforded, and they are based upon shared values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect, and independence.
Looking further into the laws you will come across the protected characteristics. These can be found under the Equality Act 2010 legislation where you fill find 9 protected characteristics. The website has many examples as well as best practice ideas on how to avoid discriminatory behaviour in the first place.
The protected characteristics are as follows:
- Age discrimination
- Disability discrimination
- Gender reassignment discrimination
- Marriage and civil partnership discrimination
- Pregnancy and Maternity discrimination
- Race discrimination
- Religion or belief discrimination
Ok, so the whistlestop tour of the rights and legislation will be a suitable place to start but remember this is not enough. It is imperative that organisations take this information on board and then inform staff on all levels and then implement changes or practices if necessary.
There are useful resources which should go towards an agile program of work within every company, no matter how small, and there is also an argument that this training be mandatory.
What do you think?
For more information on the Human Rights and Equality Act, read this helpful overview.