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Cost of sex discrimination to multiply

Despite many employers being aware of their legal responsibilities when it comes to any harassment or victimisation carried out by a staff member against another employee, it would seem that the same level of concern does not extend to the issues of equal pay and discriminatory conditions.

Official ONS figures analysed by employment law experts ELAS show that the average UK hourly wage for men is £12.64, and for women £10.38 – a gap of 21.8 percent, with the disparity between pay widening between males and females in their mid-thirties. However, wage inequality is not the only challenge women are facing in today’s workplace. A recent survey conducted by law firm Slater & Gordon reveals that 40 percent of managers admit to being wary of hiring women for senior roles, or women of childbearing age. Commenting on how businesses can ensure discrimination does not take place within the workplace, ELAS consultant Peter Holmes, says: “Business leaders that fail to train or educate staff about discrimination face the possibility of heavy fines, costly employment tribunals or maybe even a prison sentence, all while damaging their company’s reputation.

“The amount of compensation a victim of discrimination can receive is uncapped so the sky’s the limit in terms of potential costs. This means it quite literally pays to make sure that as an employer you are aware of your obligations and are doing as much as you can to mitigate the chances of an employee filing a claim.” The largest ever award handed to an employee in a race and sex discrimination case so far stands at £4.5 million, including compensation for loss of earnings up to retirement. To ensure employers know their legal obligations, ELAS have put together a checklist for employers of steps they are legally required to make to ensure they are not discriminatory:

The recruitment process

When advertising for a position employers must not state or use language which implies that any applicant will be discriminated against. This includes positioning job advertisements exclusively in outlets which may cause indirect discrimination. For example, placing a job advertisement exclusively in a range of men’s magazines. Businesses must also refrain from asking about protected characteristics including age, health, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation and whether they are married or plan to have children, as well as spent criminal convictions and trade union membership. It’s also important that employers know that they maybe liable if any discrimination happens during their recruitment process, even when using a recruitment agency.

Discrimination during employment

The right training can protect employers against costly claims. It’s vital that bosses do everything they can to arm themselves by educating staff as much as possible in this area. Anyone who then steps out of line is a ‘lone ranger’ so to speak, and acting of their own accord. This is where it’s possible to prove that the employer isn’t liable.

Equal pay

Employers need to be mindful that secrecy clauses have been outlawed, so there is nothing stopping employees from comparing wages between themselves. If discrimination in wages is occurring, as these figures seem to indicate, employers may be leaving themselves at risk of equal pay claims and sex discrimination cases. Additionally, from 1st October 2014, employment tribunals will be obliged, in certain circumstances, to order employers in breach of equal pay law to conduct equal pay audits. This will act as a warning to companies to ensure there is equality in salaries, as they may be required to justify the wages given to staff. ELAS has developed an online Equality & Discrimination course highlights the importance of equality within the workplace and  aims to make certain employees understand the risks of discriminatory acts and how to avoid them occurring in the workplace. To speak to a consultant that can advise businesses on how employers can avoid the minefield of discrimination.

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