Human Law Ezine - May 2010
Avoiding Race Discrimination Claims at Work
A recent high profile case in which the Metropolitan Police faced claims of race discrimination against a senior black officer holds some useful pointers for how businesses and organisations can avoid race discrimination at work and tackle potential difficulties before they reach the stage of Employment Tribunal.
In the case in question Superintendent Paul Wilson had alleged that his career had been sidelined after he made a report into racism in the police that alleged poor treatment of black and ethnic minority officers. Wilson, who has been on the force for 31 years, said his investigation was suppressed by senior colleagues.
Whilst the case has now been settled out of Court it does beg some questions on how the force handled things. Wilson’s comment since the settlement ("... I have decided that my concerns are best resolved through internal discussions with the Metropolitan Police. I shall take them no further externally") suggest there might have been a role for mediation well before the case reach Employment Tribunal.
These common sense Human Law Mediation tips will help your organisation avoid race discrimination claims.
Understand what constitutes race discrimination and make sure you have policies and procedures in place which tackle instances swiftly. It is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of race, colour, national origin, ethnic origin or nationality.
Create good recruitment policies – you can even face race discrimination claims from people you choose not to employ. Everything from the wording of your job advert, the specific academic or other qualifications you require and the way you conduct interviews must be within strict guidelines. As a principle you should only ask questions relevant to the person’s ability to do the job. Being pragmatic however consideration also needs to be given to how a candidate will fit into an existing team. The key is to be seen to be fair throughout the process.
Consider responses to litigation. Britain's most senior Muslim officer, Tarique Ghaffur, was suing the then Met Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, alleging racism. The claim was later withdrawn and Mr Ghaffur agreed an out-of-court settlement. It is possible that in this instance Wilson thought there was a precedent for successfully suing an organisation and was expecting to settle out of court for far more than the £10,000 he is reported to have received. Firms need to be careful if they reach settlement on legal cases as this can communicate a message that litigation does pay. Is your firm a soft touch or not?
Use mediation before the problem becomes too large to handle. It’s interesting that Superintendent Wilson now seems to be suggesting that talking things out, ‘internal discussions’ as he puts it might be a way for the parties to continue to work together and overcome their differences.
Properly conducted, employment mediation can be highly effective. Not only does mediation have an extremely high success rate in resolving disputes it also keep the dispute out of the public domain and normally leaves the parties in a position where they feel they can still work together. Full blown litigation in contrast can leave a nasty taste in the mouth of both parties. My experience is that many disputes can be eradicated if mediation is used.
Use the law cleverly. Many legal representatives like to take a macho approach in trying to resolve cases. This can work, but more often inflames parties. However a lawyer who puts forward an offer which is succinctly and professionally presented will often have strong impact.
Practise diversity. If the firm genuinely has diverse policies which allow for positive staff interaction then this will avoid any legal and moral justification for a claim. Unfortunately the police continue to be afflicted by the problems identified by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and needs to try to promote more diversity.
Avoid unnecessarily upsetting opponents. When engaged in a dispute try to keep your emotions in check and continue to maintain respect for the other side.
Have a game plan in place. Always look at the longer term picture and think of where the dispute is headed. What is an Employment Tribunal likely to decide? Can we settle this sooner? If management has a good steer on any dispute it reduces the chance of any litigation being successful.
Train staff. Increasingly my firm is training HR Departments in dispute prevention. By actively identifying the kinds of disputes which arise and practicing dispute resolution techniques HR can play a significant role in nipping disputes in the bud.
The Metropolitan Police seem to have escaped and certainly avoided the £112,000 in compensation Wilson was claiming. Mediation could have been their solution to keeping this case behind closed doors and providing Wilson with the reassurances he needed.
To discuss measures you might take to prevent race discrimination or for advice on how to handle race discrimination claims call Human Law Mediation on 0844 800 3249 or email Justin Patten here.
See also: Mediation training for managers