April 19, 2007

Equal Opportunities – an era of compulsory training?

Equal opportunities training is a vital component in any equality plan – it helps avoid discrimination, making managers and staff aware of the many forms of discrimination, and equips them with the knowledge needed to recognise and tackle potentially discriminatory practices or areas of inequality.

Such training is also a very useful way of reinforcing policies designed to ensure good practice, for example in the area of recruitment, by ensuring that selection decisions are taken against clear person specifications and selection criteria, and that the records of decisions necessary to defend any subsequent proceedings are kept.

While training should not be viewed merely as a defensive mechanism to minimise the risk of liability in employment tribunals, in a discrimination claim it is typical that the very first question asked in cross-examination of a university's witness will be whether they have received equal opportunity training.

Compulsory training within the sector is still largely the exception rather than the rule, although some institutions do require that, for example, chairs of recruitment panels have undergone such training. Where the witness has not received training (and it is a specific application of Sod's Law that the witnesses in your case will fall into this category), they run the risk of being put very much on the back foot right from the start of cross-examination.

If the university offers training but the member of staff states that they are not aware of this, the university's commitment to ensuring equality is called into question. More commonly, witnesses will accept that they were aware of voluntary courses but that they did not attend.

Witnesses who claim that they did not believe that they needed equality training risk being perceived as arrogant and are setting themselves up to be challenged on any departures from best practice or the university's policies. Those who claim that they were too busy to attend will be asked what they considered was more important than avoiding discrimination. We have even dealt with cases where witnesses have undergone a 'Damascene conversion' during cross-examination and admitted that with hindsight they would have found equality training very helpful!

While these issues are not necessarily fatal to the defence of any tribunal claim, the ideal scenario would be that the university provided comprehensive equality training to all of its staff. We know from discussions with several HR practitioners in the sector that they favour compulsory training. There is a growing argument that this approach is not just preferable, but may actually be a legal requirement for universities.

The nature of a university's obligations under discrimination law is fundamentally changing as they are increasingly caught by positive obligations to eliminate discrimination and promote equality of opportunity. These have existed in relation to race equality for a few years now, and apply in relation to disability from December 2006 and gender equality from April 2007.

It is clear in due course these obligations are likely to be extended to all areas of discrimination – for example age, religious belief and sexual orientation. These obligations require universities to take proactive steps to promote equality and to avoid discrimination in their treatment of staff and students.

If staff – especially managers – are not aware of the basic principles of discrimination and how to apply these in their every day dealings with staff and students, can the institution really say that it has done enough to comply with its positive obligations?

From: http://www.pinsentmasons.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All this writing by Pinsent Masons....

But are we really blind not to note that:

There is no mention with regard to discrimination based on political belief.... etc. etc.

Then Pinsent Masons should learn to call the King naked.

How many trans-gender senior HE managers we have in the UK, Europe, in the world?

This are just two examples...I could think perhaps of 100/200 examples which show clearly that actual andti-discrimination policies are necessarily broken in the workplace in order to maintain the control of a ruling class.

There is discrimination, and perhaps we should be careful to note that the very policy makers do it for somebody. Policies are/should always tailored with a normality as a referring point.

The real work of a healthy institution is to call for any diversity that can appear to be on the face of the earth before signing up for discrimination policies.