A former Sainsbury’s employee has won £9,585 in damages after the retailer was found to have failed to prevent a colleague making unwanted sexual comments about her.
The employment tribunal found that the supermarket had not warned the offending worker about his behaviour following previous incidents. If they had done, the accused “would not in all probability have said what he did”, according to the judge.
It was found that although the complainant reported the comments to two supervisors, neither of them escalated it to senior management or HR.
The offender had not received any equality or harassment training since his induction eight years prior, and there was also no evidence of relevant equality training for managers.
Why do workplaces need equality and diversity training?
In the Sainsbury’s case, the organisation eventually dismissed the offending staff member for gross misconduct. However, they lost the employment tribunal case because the supervisors initially failed to act to prevent the harassment from taking place.
The law provides that employers who take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment by their own employees against colleagues can escape liability at a tribunal, and instead the employee responsible can be held individually liable.
The managers either didn’t believe that the allegations were serious enough to report to senior management, or they simply didn’t know what to do. As the judge said: “It is clear that those in managerial positions do not recognise the importance of referring inappropriate comments and behaviour through the correct channels where necessary.”
Training employees in equality and diversity helps create a happier, safer workplace. Once guidelines have been set, employees will know what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour at work and will know what the consequences are if they fail to adhere to those boundaries.
For managers, they will know what to do if and when a complaint is made to them. Through training, they will understand the serious nature of any allegations made and should follow a set procedure outlined in a formal policy.
Equality and diversity training will help employers make clear to employees the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and will reduce the risk of such incidents, along with managers knowing how to act, making life easier for those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of such behaviour and reducing the risk for the employer.
So, if a case does make it to tribunal, and the organisation can prove that they have taken steps to prevent discrimination, bullying or harassment, it can make a bad situation defendable. Employers need to show that training was given, that guidelines have communicated to employees, that training took place, and that policies have been properly implemented.
As such, if the accused employee is found to have conducted discrimination and harassment, having had it made clear that this would not be tolerated, then the organisation can show that they are not liable and did all they could to prevent it.
Employers should start by putting policies in place to formalise guidelines and procedures. They should then actively communicate them to employees and managers through dedicated training.