Business owners and employers from across the region are being urged to review their equality training policies and practices after a landmark judgment found that one company had failed to take ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent the racial harassment of a member of staff.

The ruling in the case of Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen found that while the brokerage firm had delivered training on staff equality, it had become stale in the 20 months that followed.

The business had also failed to respond appropriately to claims of harassment from an employee and had therefore failed in its duty under the Equality Act 2010. Allay was ordered to pay compensation in the amount of £5,036.63.

In response to the Judgment, law firm Banner Jones has launched a comprehensive range of Employment Law training packages.

Katie Ash, Head of Employment Law at the firm, said: “In our experience, the vast majority of businesses take their duty under the Equality Act very seriously, and they want to do all that is necessary to prevent the harassment and bullying of staff. Rightly so.

“What’s different in this case, however, is that while Allay (UK) Ltd had policies and training in place, they had failed to ensure that they had regular refresher sessions in place and that they actively followed up with staff to make sure that they were acting in an appropriate way.”

Katie explains that employers can defend claims that they are vicariously liable for the discriminatory actions of their workers where they have taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent them from acting in such a way, and had the employer in this case delivered more regular training they may not have lost the case.

The Employment Tribunal also made some interesting observations on how training should be provided and they said that ‘brief and superficial’ training is unlikely to have a substantial effect in preventing harassment or have long lasting consequences.

By contrast, ‘thoughtful and forcefully presented’ training is more likely to be effective, and last longer.

The Judgment also found that with regards to how regularly training should be refreshed that if it becomes clear that harassment is still occurring and/or that staff didn’t understand the training, the employer needs to take further steps i.e. to improve and refresh the training.

Katie adds: “As the Judgment says, if training involves no more than gathering employees together and saying, ‘here is your harassment training, don’t do it’, before sending everyone back to work, it is unlikely to be effective or long lasting.

“Instead, the reasonable steps that employers should take include having well-drafted equal opportunities and anti-harassment and bullying policies in place, ensuring that all workers are made aware of those policies and understand them, that appropriate training is given, regularly, and that complaints are dealt with in the right way.

“Where this happens – where the training is regular and of a good standard, and the employer was unaware of the continuing harassment – then the reasonable steps defence might still succeed.

“The fundamental learning point for employers is to make sure that equality policies and training are of a high quality and updated regularly. “

The Judgment has prompted Banner Jones to develop a number of new training packages for clients which covers all of the necessary areas of Employment Law right through the employment lifecycle, from how to deal with recruitment through to how to deal with termination of employment, including redundancies.

Katie added: “Our clients who have already undertaken the training have said how much better it is that their line managers are able to deal with situations and that just giving them enough knowledge to deal with situations lawfully has been a real benefit to their business.”