This month we saw the Advertising Standards Agency’s anticipated ban on ‘harmful gender stereotypes’ in adverts, come into force. From the discussions we have listened to on the news and amongst peers and clients, it appears that the reaction to the enforcement is mixed; with some welcoming the change while others feeling that it is political correctness, ‘gone mad’.
For us HR professionals though, the ban was a stark reminder of the pitfalls of failing to challenge stereotypes or bias within a business; whether unconscious or other, that could lead an employer to an Employment Tribunal facing allegations of Sex Discrimination.
The risk of discriminating on the grounds of sex presents itself to an Employer as early as the recruitment stage, with examples of this being job advertisements that ask for ‘women only’ applicants or interviews where a woman has been about who will mind her children if she was to be successful in securing the job.
However, it is oftentimes perhaps the less obvious cases of sex discrimination that can prove problematic for Employers. While employee relations issues are, and should be, dealt with on a case-by-case basis, it is also important that the employer does consider the precedent that previous cases have set. A failure to do so by Greater Manchester Police recently proved costly; after losing the Employment Tribunal brought against them by two female employees over how their treatment during a disciplinary investigation, differed to that of their male counterparts during a previous case. In assessing the evidence, the Judge compared the handling of other male employees (the ‘comparators’) during a disciplinary investigation with that of their female officers. While the process that GMP had followed with the females’ disciplinary process was in line with their own policy, this same practice had not been applied to the disciplinary process involving the male comparators. The result was a costly £42,500 pay out from GMP as the Judge ruled in favour of the female officers.
So, what does this teach us about sex discrimination? Consistency in approach to processes across the business is a critical consideration for Employers, to ensure that the risk of treating a protected person or group differently from others is minimised. It is also essential that Employers are familiar with their own policies before commencing with a process and policies are reviewed on a regular basis, to ensure compliance with up to date Employment Legislation and that they continue to reflect the needs of the business. Finally, consideration should be taken to any precedent set by the business through its handling of previous cases and also any recent Case Law.
If you have any queries about the contents of this article, please contact a member of the HPC team:
T: 0151 556 1975