A perfect summer storm? A warning on discrimination

This summer could easily prove itself as a discrimination minefield. Euro 2016, school holidays, early Ramadan and recent case law on religious manifestations all come with their own potential workplace risks.

With Euro 2016 having (literally) kicked off in France employees may wish to leave early, take days off or pull the proverbial “sickie” during or post matches. As with granting leave to employees who would like to maximise leave during school holidays and/or Ramadan, employers must ensure that they treat all and any holiday requests on a first come first serve basis.  Showing preference to some requests over others could be deemed discriminatory. Whether it is because the employee wishes to support a nationality during a particular Euro 2016 match or because he or she wants time off during school holidays to avoid being fined for taking their child out of school during term time – approving or rejecting holiday requests should not be based on reasons that are in any way capable of being discriminatory. Of course, employers have the discretion to reject holiday requests if it would disrupt business or if there is no holiday cover, but it is prudent to clearly explain and document this to employees so that there is no doubt in their mind why their holiday request had been refused.

Similarly, be it supporting your football team, family life or religious views, healthy chat can make for a more cohesive working environment, but employers should be aware of the risk of harassment or discrimination where harmless socialising crosses over into a hostile, degrading or intimidating behaviour. Although some “office banter” may seem trivial and harmless, harassment is based upon the effect on a person and therefore there is a risk that some employees will not necessarily perceive the banter in the same way as others. In light of this, employers should take appropriate action in situations where employees feel harassed because of, for instance supporting Germany in Euro 2016, taking their children to LEGOLAND during school holidays, or fasting during Ramadan.

Conclusively, it is important (if not vital) to have robust employment contracts, policies and procedures in place to fall back on if issues arise. These are not only useful tools to tackle workplace disputes, but also, if used correctly, will minimise your business’ exposure to risk and (hopefully) make for a happier workforce.

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