It's the law: Avoiding discrimination in the workplace

Employers are financially and legally liable for any acts of prejudice committed by their staff.

Employers are responsible for the actions their employees undertake during the course of their work in a number of areas of law. One key area where this concept of vicarious liability often affects employers is anti-discrimination. If an employee discriminates against another employee, a third-party contractor, a client, a volunteer and so on because of his or her gender, religion, race, age, disability or sexual orientation, the employer is financially and legally liable for that employee's actions.

Although claimants can include discriminating individuals as parties to proceedings, the Employment Tribunal is likely to award the bulk of any compensation payment against the employer rather than the individual.

Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of charities would never condone discriminatory behaviour on the part of their employees. Such behaviour may nonetheless cause damage to their finances and reputations.

It is possible for employers to defend themselves against liability for the discriminatory acts of their employees, provided they can demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps to prevent or stop the discriminatory acts of those employees. Ways of demonstrating that an employer has taken all reasonable steps include the following: taking a clear and unequivocal stance against discrimination; adopting a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy that clearly sets out the seriousness with which discriminatory acts or conduct are viewed; setting out penalties for breaching the policy in a way that reflects the seriousness with which the policy is viewed; undertaking regularly updated equal opportunities training for all employees; thoroughly investigating all allegations of discrimination; and ensuring that appropriate measures are taken against those who are found to have discriminated.

It is vital that charities ensure all line managers communicate the message to their teams that discriminating against others is entirely unacceptable and will be treated with the utmost seriousness.

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