Discrimination and Diversity – practical tips for your policies and procedures

1 March, 2019

Last year, Starbucks hit the headlines in the wrong way when it closed 8,000 shops in America to train approximately 175,000 employees about racial sensitivity after one store manager asked two black men to leave because they hadn’t ordered anything. Emma Saunders, of law firm Cripps, incorporating Pemberton Greenish, offers some practical advice to lessen the risk of law suits and the reputational damage associated with discrimination claims.

The Equality Act 2010 lists 9 characteristics – age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation – which are afforded special protected status from discrimination. Should an employer be found to be discriminating against employees, the amount that can be awarded at a tribunal is unlimited. Also, your employees are flying the company flag.

It is therefore important for a company to communicate its core values to its employees from the outset and regularly reaffirm that message. For quick-service restaurants, staff are amongst the main assets and the workforce tends to be diverse. Ensuring equal treatment should therefore be high priority.

Your business should have an Equality and Diversity policy, usually part of your Staff Handbook, but it’s sensible to also include diversity training in your induction process and provide ongoing training, for example videos and discussion groups. Consider as well undertaking employee and customer surveys to discover more about their experiences.

A particular concern in the out of home food industry can be the rules surrounding dress codes. While often introduced to address legitimate health and safety concerns, employers must tread carefully to avoid complaints of sex and religious discrimination, particularly. Although having different dress requirements for men and women is not in itself prohibited, it is better to make uniforms consistent between male and female employees if possible, doing so should also support any transgender employees.

Consider jewellery policies carefully – for example some Christian employees may wish to wear a cross and some Hindus pierce their noses. A policy to require men to be clean shaven could affect Sikh men more than others because they choose not to cut their hair or facial hair for religious reasons. However requirements based on legitimate health and safety concerns could be permissible if you can demonstrate this constitutes an objective justification for the rules.  

Any dress code policy in force should be reasonable and should relate to the job. No rule should be more stringent for some than it is for others. If your policy does put someone with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage, ask yourself whether any reasonable adjustments can be made. These can be considered on a case by case basis in consultation with the individual concerned and with your legal advisers or HR consultants if necessary.

For more information about equality and discrimination in the workplace or any other aspect of employment law please contact Cripps Associate Emma Saunders on 01892 506025 or emma.saunders@crippspg.co.uk.

This article first appeared in Out of Home magazine in March 2019.