Know your rights - and other people's

Related tags Discrimination

It seems that this summer, in particular, the question of discrimination appears to be making the headlines, yet again. The worrying trend for the...

It seems that this summer, in particular, the question of discrimination appears to be making the headlines, yet again.

The worrying trend for the licensed trade is that claims of bias or unfair treatment are still on the increase - and in a wider framework, too.

Sex and race problems have been joined by disability, age and gender discrimination, while rights for working parents have been enhanced as a result of EU directives.

Licensees can face legal action from either employees or members of the public.

The pub always seems to be in the spotlight as soon as discrimination issues are raised - if only because an awful lot of prejudice may be voiced over a pint or two in the local, where people gather to air their views.

Recently I read a report that detailed how discrimination is allowed to happen in the workplace. In one example, concerning the hospitality industry, a manager allowed certain customers to make racist and unpleasant remarks about a member of staff, without taking any action. The staff member successfully claimed against his employer for discrimination.

This has always been a difficult area of the law, right from the start. It is said that you cannot legislate about people's prejudices, and you certainly do not shift them overnight by successive Acts of Parliament.

All you can do is highlight what is considered unacceptable and hope that the publicity eventually wears away irrational and often cruel behaviour, and makes people more aware of what they are doing.

For licensees, it's a question of recognising that discrimination takes many forms, and that perhaps you need to take more than a few moments to assess how to cope with it in your working practices and relations with staff.

The problem is that racism, in particular, is often tacitly condoned, simply by not reacting properly when a comment is made or an action taken. Often, this is because the manager or licensee does not want to be seen "siding with" the victim and may prefer to let it pass. The example given previously shows that this approach can also be dangerous.

Although tempting, it's not something that can be ignored or glossed over. Successful claims are still being made which can involve considerable financial penalties and adverse publicity - something struggling pubs don't need.

Although racial discrimination is still at the top of the list, disability discrimination cases have shown the sharpest increase in recent years. This is an area where the licensed trade has made great strides, but still has a lot of work to do - not merely in coping with physical disability problems such as disabled access, but also with other issues concerning partially sighted, deaf or perhaps mentally impaired people who may want to use pub facilities.

Above all, however, the law expects you to act "reasonably", not turn the pub into a rehabilitation centre. And that begins with staff attitudes and proper training on the issues.

If you employ staff or manage a pub, you must bring yourself up to speed on all issues to do with discrimination and rights in the workplace. There are extremely helpful training aids and considerable information on the internet.

And you must be aware of potential conflict. As this tribunal case shows, it is the attitude of the person in charge that may matter more than the actions of individuals at the time.

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