Equality – a tick box exercise?

What do you think about Equality in the workplace, is it effective?

According to recent reports, the Department for Work and Pensions has lost more employment tribunals for disability discrimination than any other employer in Britain since 2016.

This week, the BBC series Panorama found that the DWP lost 17 of 134 claims of discrimination against its own disabled workers from 2016-19. Further, it has been found that it paid out at least £950,000 in both tribunal payments and out-of-court settlements in that time.

The DWP told Panorama that it was “shocked” by the data but was reviewing its processes to ensure all staff were treated fairly.

How the management staff of the department can claim to be shocked by the findings is shocking in itself! But, the most disappointing part of it is how the government department that is responsible for supporting people with disabilities into employment, is failing to show equality itself in how it treats its staff and offering equal opportunity for all.

This is a horrible irony that the organisation designed to look after the more vulnerable members of our society is constantly falling foul of the Equality Act around disability, and suggests that there is something quite fundamentally, systemically wrong within the culture of the organisation.

Unfortunately, however, many employers find themselves in the same position and many solicitors will leave their business clients in the same position as the DWP – all the correct paperwork, policies and promises are written down, but how to put them into practice is left to luck.

Panorama findings

Panorama understands that of the DWP’s 80,000 members of staff, 11,000 identify as disabled.

The investigation analysed the publicly available data on the online Employment Tribunal decisions database up until December 2019 which reveals that the DWP had more cases in total and more cases which it lost than any other employer.

The DWP has lost 12.5% percent of its employment tribunal cases for disability between 2016 and 2019. On average over this period 3% of disability discrimination claims were lost by employers.

From 2016 to 2019 the DWP paid out at least £953,315 to DWP employees with disabilities as a result of losing employment tribunals, or because they settled out of court.

Freedom of Information requests reveal that between April 2017 and June 2019 the department settled 45 claims out of court, at a cost of £713,000. The remaining £240,000 was awarded to people who had won their employment tribunals.

Why bother having a policy?

No doubt, DWP will have all the policies under the sun, and will advertise and claim to be the best most inclusive, flexible employer. These figures, if we take them at face value, destroy that claim completely.

Policies and procedures are an essential part of any organisation and provide a roadmap for day-to-day operations. They ensure compliance with laws and regulations, give guidance for decision-making, and streamline internal processes. However, policies and procedures won’t do the employer any good if the employees don’t follow them.

Employees don’t always like the idea of having to follow the rules, but policy implementation is not just a matter of arbitrarily forcing employees to do things they don’t want to do. Following policies and procedures is good for employees and a business as a whole.

The Importance of Following Policies and Procedures

As the organisation’s leaders create and enforce policies, it is important to make sure the staff understands why following policies and procedures is critical.

Here are just a few of the positive outcomes of following policies and procedures:

  • Consistent processes and structures

Policies and procedures keep operations from devolving into complete chaos.

When everyone is following policies and procedures, the organisation can run smoothly.

Management structures and teams operate as they are meant to and mistakes and hiccups in processes can be quickly identified and addressed.

When the staff is following policies and procedures, the organisation will use time and resources more efficiently.

Consistency in practices is also right for employees individually. They know what they’re responsible for, what’s expected of them, and what they can expect from their supervisors and co-workers. This frees them up to do their jobs with confidence and excellence.

  • Better quality service

When employees follow procedures, they perform tasks correctly and provide consistent customer service. This enhances the quality of the organisation’s products and services. This in turn, improves the company’s reputation. Employees can know they are fulfilling their roles and take pride in their work.

  • A safer workplace

When staff are following policies and procedures, workplace accidents and incidents are less likely to occur.

This reduces liability risks for an organisation and limits interruptions in operations.

The employees can feel safe and comfortable in the workplace, knowing that their managers and co-workers are looking out for their best interest. They can rest assured that they will be taken care of if something does happen.

  • Diversity

Having policies on equal opportunity is important. Having staff understand what this means in practice is absolutely vital. Having people enjoy their workplace because of its diversity is priceless.

Having policies on equal opportunities that are understood and implemented will improve diversity. Everyone has something to offer and having diversity in the workforce, whether diversity from disabled staff; staff of different racial backgrounds or staff with different ages and genders, is hugely important to develop new ideas and progress.

  • Improved Reputation

Employees talk to friends, colleagues, family, contacts on social media; professional advisers such as solicitors. All of this can affect reputation. This can affect recruitment and retention, and even whether others will work with/do business with a particular company.

Ways to Implement Policies and Procedures

Maybe, hopefully, the employees already grasp the importance of following policies and procedures. But how can businesses ensure staff follow through on the steps toward compliance?

Here are a few ideas for making sure the team knows how to follow procedures:

  • Make policy manuals more accessible

Employees can’t follow policies they don’t know. Many organisations still use paper-based policy manuals, passing out binders containing the employee handbook. Unfortunately, these policy manual binders often end up stuffed in a drawer or on a shelf gathering dust.

This is problematic because employees need to be able to refer to policies at any time. If they don’t have easy access to an up-to-date policy and procedure manual, they won’t know the correct procedures to follow.

Using a policy management software makes policies and procedures available to every staff member. You can quickly send out policy updates and require employee signatures to make sure everyone has read the policy.

With online policy management, staff can access procedures from anywhere, using any computer or mobile device.

Instead of having to thumb through pages of a binder, they can do a simple keyword search to pull up the procedure they need.

This ensures they are actually following policies and procedures rather than just trying to remember the correct steps off the top of their head.

  • Implement training courses

Making sure the employees read policies and procedures is the first step toward ensuring compliance, but it is not enough on its own. Employees may not entirely understand a policy or know how to put it into practice.

Any organisation needs to train employees on the substance of policies as well as on how to perform procedures in real-life situations.

Thorough training on policies and procedures should happen for every new hire during the onboarding process. It cannot be denied that employees who receive formal onboarding training are more productive, gain full proficiency faster, and are more likely to hit their performance milestones.

However, policy and procedure training should be ongoing for all employees. Training will look different depending on the industry and the size of the organisation.

For example, in industries such as law enforcement and health care, hands-on, scenario-based training is of particular importance.

But every organisation will have information that employees can effectively learn through online training courses. An online training management program can save any organisation time and money by allowing employees to complete training independently on their own time.

With online systems, businesses can upload training materials such as PowerPoints, videos, audio files, and more, and this can be retained safely and easily online, providing a full record of each employee’s engagement with the training, and be able to gather feedback to improve policies and training. When training is streamlined, employees will be better equipped to follow policies and procedures.

  • Test employee comprehension

Policy distribution and training don’t guarantee that every employee truly understands policies. An employee may sign off on a document without actually comprehending it.

This may not seem to matter in the short-term, but in the long run, it will result in employees not following policies and procedures.

A good policy and procedure management software will allow an organisation to create tests to make sure employees understand policies. This could include customisable quizzes for employees to complete after reading a policy or finishing a training course. This will enable organisations to address any gaps in understanding and rest assured that employees know how to follow procedure.

  • Encourage accountability

Policy implementation happens from the top down. Employees are more likely to abide by policy if they see their managers and leaders consistently following policies and procedures, as well.

Employees also must know the consequences of not following policies and procedures. This means the organisation must have a structure for discipline and corrective action.

Again, this starts with the leaders. Managers and supervisors must be trained in when and how to conduct disciplinary reviews.

Supervisors shouldn’t have to micromanage employees to make sure they are following policies and procedures. Procedure checklists and reporting mechanisms can help keep employees on track.

This documentation will help leaders see which employees are following procedures and which are not.

They can reward employees or offer correction as needed. Employees who are deviating from procedures may just need some guidance or further training.

  • Regularly review policies and procedures

When practices deviate from policy, it usually means one of two things:

  1. The organisation needs to better communicate policy and procedure with its staff and enforce compliance.
  2. The policy and procedures are outdated or incomplete.

Employees can’t follow procedures that don’t exist, contradict other policies, or fail to address a significant shift in technology or practice.

Organisational leadership must regularly review and revise policies and procedures, take new regulations, standards, technology, and structural changes into account.

Every time policies are updated, it must be made sure that changes are communicated to staff, incorporated into training and tests on policies, and hold employees accountable.

‘More we can do’

The DWP has failed to make sure their employees were following policies and procedures. It appears that the staff also didn’t understand the policies and what they meant.

Of course, an organisation cannot control what a rogue person does or says, and some people remain ignorant, but they can be responsible for the hurt and injury, nonetheless. Having policies in place that are clear, understood, practical, accessible and adopted from top to bottom is hugely important. It does take work, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We are shocked that, when presented in this way, the data shows us in this light…Fair and respectful treatment is a right and we do not tolerate discrimination in any form…we have introduced 1,600 mental health first aiders…We know there is always more we can do…”

Pulling the policies out of the cupboard, reading them, understanding them and building empathy and kindness is the least they should have done. It will be interesting to see what more is.

Links

The Million Pound Disability Payout was aired on BBC One at 20:30 GMT on Monday. Can now be accessed via the IPlayer here

This article was written and researched by Albert Bargery, Solicitor at our Isle of Wight Office. Albert BargeryAlbert advises employers and employees on the Isle of Wight and throughout the UK. You can contact Albert by email:albert@realemploymentlawadvice.co.uk

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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

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