How to avoid discrimination when your team is hybrid working

How to avoid discrimination when your team is hybrid working

New research says only half of employers are confident they’ll treat workers fairly and evenly ‘ so what can your business do to address this?

Hybrid working is now a mainstay for many companies. However, it presents plenty of challenges for employers to manage. One of the major concerns is employers’ ability to treat office-based and home-based staff equally over the next 12 months.

Having surveyed over 490 UK employers and more than 1,000 employees, employment law and HR support firm WorkNest found some concerning gaps in opinion between bosses and workers. With employers lacking confidence around the fair treatment of staff working in different locations, employees are even more doubtful. Only 40% are confident that their employer will be even and fair.

Expectations around pay and reward saw the biggest gap. While 54% of employers are confident this will be fair and even in the year ahead, only 40% of employees agree. The research also reveals that 17% of employees think where they work will impact their training and development opportunities. Yet only 9% of employers share this concern.

On a more positive note, nearly two-thirds (63%) of businesses say they’re actively working on providing opportunities for career progression. However, just 50% of employees believe that their business is managing this ‘ highlighting a lack of communication. This is particularly worrying as 10% of employees say that learning and development is what matters most to their happiness at work.

So what can business founders, directors and people managers do to address such concerns?

Firstly, ensure you have policies in place and manager training to ensure home-working staff receive the same support and opportunities as their office-based colleagues, reducing the risk of unfair treatment. Failing to do this is likely to spark grievances, which could quickly escalate, leading to time-related costs, reputational damage and ‘ in worst-case scenarios ‘ even expensive Tribunal claims. It’s vital that, even with so many competing priorities for managers’ time, small businesses don’t duck the issue.

For larger businesses, this will be an important ‘review and refresh’ exercise. A failure to focus on this may not only lead to disenchantment and demotivation among staff but could, in some cases, lead to claims for discrimination. Especially if employees believe that their career is being negatively impacted due, for example, to caring responsibilities. Beware that team members who are out of sight, absolutely mustn’t be out of mind.

Secondly, be alert to indirect discrimination. Hybrid or flexible working is more likely to benefit women, so the refusal of it can lead to indirect sex discrimination claims. In a recent case, an estate agent was awarded £185,000 in damages after her request to leave work earlier to collect her daughter from nursery was denied. This was an indirect sex discrimination claim, not any claim under the flexible working regime.

While the risk of finding yourself in a similar scenario is relatively low, it’s still a concern, particularly to SMEs. If individuals working from home due to caring responsibilities are not given the same opportunities, they could raise claims of sex or possibly disability discrimination.

Thirdly, seize the opportunities presented by hybrid working to positively impact retention. If people don’t think they’re being treated fairly or given equal opportunity it could result in a drain of talent. Employers who embrace flexibility and put clear measures in place to ensure staff feel just as included wherever they work stand to have an advantage. This can be as simple as ensuring all employees are informed of job and training opportunities and that, if you’re organising a meeting in the office, home-based colleagues are invited to attend either in person or via online tools such as Zoom or Teams.

Developing a hybrid working policy which sets out your planned way of working with this new concept is vital. Be clear as a business why you have adopted your way of working. Your staff are more likely to trust in your ability to be fair, and commit to you, if they can see that you’ve thought carefully about how the policy will serve the needs of your business, your customers, AND your employees.

James Tamm
James Tamm

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