The recent poor handling of discrimination complaints from a former player at Yorkshire Cricket Club has highlighted the importance of accountability, ownership and leadership for employers. The reputation of the club lies in tatters as they downplayed the former employee’s concerns and brought no one to account.
The Equality Act 2010 states that employers are accountable for the actions of their employees, agents and contractors – something the club has seemingly failed to acknowledge.
Workplace investigations in sensitive and complex matters
An organisation which is committed to promoting a diverse culture should have a procedure in place for investigating and handling complaints of harassment. A clear policy for raising a complaint and an assurance that employees will not be treated unfairly for doing so is key.
A complaint of harassment should be treated as a grievance and investigated thoroughly and preferably by a neutral person. If the victim is not satisfied with the outcome of their grievance and any appeal then this can risk the employer having to provide a reason to an employment tribunal as to why the investigation and grievance hearing concluded there was no harassment. In the case at Yorkshire Cricket Club the victim also went public of course which then led to other victims backing his claims.
Disciplinary action against the perpetrator may follow and this is a separate process and an important one if unacceptable behaviour is to be stamped out.
The complainant in the Yorkshire Cricket Club case did take the club to an employment tribunal and ultimately, under a new chairmanship, the case was settled out of court.
Consistency and fairness
Ensuring all employees are treated the same and with the same level of fairness is essential. Consistency needs to be demonstrated within the workplace and when handling complaints of harassment and in all other employee relations matters.
Keep notes of every incident as this can help to build a case against persistent offenders.
Employees should understand the consequences of harassment
Harassment and discrimination should be discussed with employees. Guidance on the behaviour expected of employees should be given at induction and on an ongoing basis. Employees who harass others either racially or otherwise should face disciplinary action following an investigation.
Ensure that the consequences of harassment in the workplace are clear. Do your team understand the difference between banter and harassment? Are they simply behaving as everyone else does around them (which seems to be what happened at Yorkshire Cricket Club)? Perhaps they need some training in order to understand the difference.
Confidence to report issues
With a strong culture of openness, employees should not fear coming forward with claim of harassment. When racism, sexism etc. are part of a workplace culture, employees sometimes cannot see the point in reporting it as they have no faith that anything will improve. That should set alarm bells ringing for an employer.
Changing an unacceptable workplace culture
To improve a workplace culture there needs to be clarity on core values and they need to be cemented within the organisation. Good two-way communication can help to ensure that issues are reported and perpetrators disciplined.
Making change takes time but start with managers. Create a management team that is behind your core values and is fully trained to recognise and respond to harassment issues.
Identify individuals who gossip and ensure they are managed properly. Recruit the right people that will push your culture. Weed out unacceptable behaviour amongst managers as well as staff.
Perhaps undertake a staff survey to ensure that you have a happy workforce. This will help to identify areas for improvement or concern.
Change can take time – be patient and be consistent and positive in your efforts. The case of Yorkshire Cricket Club is a salutary lesson to employers who don’t treat matters relating to harassment with the seriousness they deserve.