Keeping an eye on the culture and “banter” in your workplace could help you avoid a tribunal and hefty fine, says Joy May CEO of Absolute Works.

In a recent tribunal case, a female solicitor who had been paid less than a male colleague for five years and endured a “campaign of victimisation” when she complained, was awarded £159k.

Helena Biggs made a claim against her former employer for sex discrimination, victimisation and unfair dismissal.

When she found out she had been paid less than her male colleague for the last five years, she raised the issue with her manager.

The tribunal heard details of discrimination and victimisation spanning the solicitor’s tenure at the firm, ultimately resulting in her being dismissed from her role. The tribunal judge ruled that she had received unequal pay and suffered unlawful sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation, and awarded her a total of £158,860.41, saying “What is described as banter or jokes can still be offensive.”

This is an extreme case, but, as Joy May points out, it’s an important lesson for all business owners to ensure the culture in your company is supportive and inclusive:

“It’s not acceptable to make sexist or other discriminatory comments in a workplace environment. As this recent case shows, that can be a very costly mistake. It’s important to ensure everyone in your business knows where that line is regarding what is and is not acceptable – and if you’re not sure, err on the side of caution. Make sure you have a robust grievance procedure in place and that all your employees know where it is and how to use it.”

Joy May adds:

“We all want to work in an environment that feels safe and inclusive, and making sure everyone knows what is and is not acceptable is a key part of this. The law now states that employers have a duty to be proactive in preventing sexual harassment and must have a policy addressing this. Organising staff training and making sure everyone is familiar with key policies are important – but so is making sure your policies are followed correctly in the event a grievance is raised. Failing to treat your staff fairly can end up costing you money as well as valuable employees.”

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