Round Table: Discrimination

PCC Lawyers hosted a Round Table discussion at the College of Law on 16th March 2016.  This time, the subject was Workplace Discrimination

Our panel of Solicitors, made up of Helen Carter, Lucienne Gleeson and Alecia Thompson discussed six questions that had been submitted in advance by clients and friends of the firm.  They also fielded questions and discussion from a lively group of participants.

The questions are all listed below the video.

The Cautious Recruiter

I often interview job candidates who are clearly from ethnic backgrounds or disclose to me that they are pregnant or have a mental illness. These factors do not play any role in our decision to employ or not employ someone. However, at the end of the recruitment process, if a decision is made not to hire the person, what steps should I take to ensure that our decision is not seen as discriminatory?

Family Responsibilities

We have a highly valued long term admin employee who has always managed to balance work with family obligations.  Since her eldest child has gone to school however, she has been unable to find after school care in her area, and has made a request for flexible work arrangements.  She has reduced her hours, and she now starts at 8am and finishes at 3pm.   We allowed her to do this because we value her work, and because at the time we didn’t see it is a major issue.  When the office is busy during the afternoon, particularly the phones, this is becoming a major distraction to some of the professional staff, and they are unhappy.

I’m not sure if they are actually unhappy about the distractions, or if they are unhappy about the fact that she is allowed to leave early.  It may be a bit of both.

I understand that we are able to say no to flexibility on ‘reasonable business grounds’, but are the complaints from other staff considered reasonable?

Also, I am aware that one of our other admin staff members is pregnant? If she asks for similar flexible work arrangements during afternoons we will be unable to say yes, because this will leave the phones completely unattended.  If we say no, is this unfair?  Can we get into any trouble for treating the two employees differently?

Part time Work and Flexibility

Are there any protections afforded to part-time workers in terms of discrimination?  I am aware that they are entitled to the same protection but wondered if there is any protection afforded anywhere in relation to discrimination because one is a part time worker.  From my limited understanding there is not a specific category that would cover this but was curious how it plays out in a workforce attempting to move to more flexible practices.

The Racial Jokester

An employee from an ethnic minority has recently made a complaint claiming that his supervisor has referred to him as “black” and a “nigger” whilst making jokes with other employees. Despite the words being used in a joking way, the employee has been offended by them. The employee has said that he doesn’t want to make a formal complaint but that he is extremely stressed by the situation and doesn’t want to work with the supervisor anymore. What should I do?

 Medical Complications

An employee of ours has been having various medical complications. They have applied for an internal promotion. We are concerned, given the time they have had off work sick and their medical conditions, that they cannot carry out a management role. They have asked to work a 9-day fortnight to help manage their medical conditions. Do we need to be aware of any discrimination issues?

Vicarious Liability

I have heard that employers can be held accountable for discriminatory actions of their employees? Is this true and if so what are the limits of this?