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Audrey Williams: Help is at hand for small business owners to manage equality and diversity issues in the workplace

Monday 10 August 2015

Audrey Williams is an employment partner and discrimination law expert with Fox Williams LLP, described as "a leading light" in the field of discrimination law with over 25 years' extensive experience.


Audrey Williams

Audrey Williams is an employment partner and discrimination law expert with Fox Williams LLP. She is a Fellow of the UK's Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development. She has particular expertise in discrimination, harassment and equal pay and is a court advocate.

Audrey Williams

Acas' new guides answer those essential questions: What is discrimination? And how do I deal with a complaint? Aimed at small employers who do not have HR support, they are an important addition to Acas' existing services. The guides also give practical examples of the common situations when an employer may, often inadvertently, act unlawfully such as when dealing with health checks or taking references (a reminder that job applicants and employees have rights).

The guides raise awareness of the risks to employers which can leave them out of pocket. For example, if an employee leaves because of discrimination, the organisation may incur costs for retraining or recruiting; these increase substantially if the employee takes legal action; but the risk of damage to the employer's reputation is immeasurable.

The guidance on "How to Respond to Concerns and Complaints" is a useful reference point. I often see situations where an employer has failed to address concerns at an early stage or even worse, ignored them, which only makes the problem worse. Not handling the situation properly, or not taking it seriously enough ultimately increases the costs, and potentially damages the reputation of the organisation. Employment tribunals can impose additional financial penalties where an employer is dismissive or deals with the matter in a high handed or aggressive way; the view that is that by doing so an employer adds insult to injury.

A recent tribunal case illustrates the complexity of this area of law. When it comes to disabled employees and job applicants, there are positive obligations on an employer to make adjustments and support an individual member of staff. While this does not extend to accommodating an employee who is not themselves disabled, our equality laws do protect individuals from negative treatment and attitudes (through concepts such as direct discrimination and harassment).

In Truman v Bibby Distribution Limited, an employment tribunal judged that Bibby had dismissed Mr Truman (who had caring responsibilities for a disabled daughter) because of his caring responsibilities and not for performance. On the face of it, given the employee himself was not disabled, this may be puzzling. However, it illustrates why it is important to understand how protection works: in the case of disability discrimination and other areas of direct discrimination and harassment, associative discrimination exists; in other words a decision based on disability (in this case, the daughter's disability) is discrimination against Mr Truman "because of a disability" and therefore unlawful.

It is a good lesson in the need to be alert to the risk of a discrimination claim and how concerns, suspicions and attitudes can lead to decisions which place an employer at risk, legally and financially. For any manager, business owner or director who is not already aware of the equality laws, the new Acas Guides are essential reading and an important essential reference point.


Read other blogs

Sarah Veale, TUC: Diversity guidance and support

Steve Williams: The four principles of equality in workplaces


Add a comment+
  • Posted by Acas Admin  |  30 December 2016, 4:57PM

    Hi Kerryn, we have information on TUPE here But if you need more specific advice, try our Helpline: 

  • Posted by Kerryn  |  21 December 2016, 1:30PM

    I have just learnt that after 6 years of working together my male colleague is earning £3,000 a year more than me. We work together in the same office doing exactly the same job, I presumed for the same money. I have spoken to my employers who have tried to justify it by saying he was TUPE'd over, but they have made no effort to harmonise our pay over the 6 years and every year our payrises mean that the pay gap continues to get larger and larger... Do I have any rights or is TUPE equal pay protection all one way for the incoming staff?