Modernising the Workplace

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Whilst #MeToo is still very much a key issue for employers and we have seen, for example the Equality and Human Rights Commission publish guidance on how employers can deal with sexual harassment in the workplace , the recent focus on the Black Lives Matter movement has rightly brought the discourse about race and equality for black people very much in the forefront of employers’ minds. We can cast our minds back to February 2017, when an independent review by Baroness McGregor-Smith on issues affecting black and minority ethnic (BME) groups in the workplace was published. The Government response was published alongside the review.

 

The review identified discrimination and bias at every stage of an individual’s career, and even before it began:

  • In 2015, 1 in 8 of the working age population were from a BAME background, yet BAME individuals make up only 10% of the workforce and hold only 6% of top management positions;
  • The employment rate for ethnic minorities is only 62.8% compared with an employment rate for White workers of 75.6% – a gap of over 12. This gap is even more stark for some ethnic groups, for instance the employment rate for those from a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background is only 54.9%; and
  • People with a BME background have an underemployment rate of 15.3% compared with 11.5% for White workers

In the wake of BLM, the Government has suggested a new inquiry into racial inequality with others condemning this as not being enough, and that action needs to be taken.  In 2019, for example, the Government consulted on whether employers should be required to publish their ethnicity pay gap as well as their gender pay gap, but no outcomes were published from that consultation.  A petition calling for ethnicity pay gap reporting has reached over 100,000 signatures meaning it will be debated in Parliament.  Some employers, such as Zurich, have already started to publish irrespective of this. 

Race issues are therefore very much on the mind of employers and employees alike, and are relevant to all aspects of the employment relationship from seeking to attract more BAME talent, tackling discrimination, dealing with complaints about race whether they be grievances or tribunal claims, through to embracing and creating a diverse workforce, particularly at Exec level, to reflect the wider population.

This will again be an issue for law firms who will face investigations as a result of allegations of race discrimination in line with the Standards and Regulations which make it clear that any breach of the provisions relating to equality will be regarded very seriously. 

The team has represented a law firm in just such a situation and whilst ultimately no findings were made the lengthy investigation had a devastating effect on the practice concerned. 

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