The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on all of us. We know that staying financially viable has to be a top priority for all businesses and, for many sectors, just staying in business has required rapid change and adaptation. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are working hard to balance the books, whilst also adapting business models, doing the right things for their staff and keeping track of new guidance, all without the support of huge HR teams.
That’s why at the Equality and Human Rights Commission we’ve tried to produce simple, easy-to-access guidance on equality considerations when responding to the pandemic and it’s why we’re delighted to be able to speak to SMEs directly through a forthcoming CBI webinar.
Equality considerations may seem a very long way down a list of priorities right now but considering equality is likely to save you time in the long run and make your business more able to quickly respond to changing needs.
SMEs are on the frontline of ensuring that workplaces are more equal, and diversity is embraced as we start to reopen the economy. Having a positive approach to equality, by thinking about inclusion and avoiding discrimination in the decisions you make, is not only about protection from potential legal action. SMEs who have focused on equality and diversity in the past have told us that they have not only attracted more clients, but also boosted productivity, staff commitment and their organisational brand. These are the kind of outcomes which will be essential for resilience in the months to come.
Considering equality does not have to be time consuming and shouldn’t involve filling out lots of forms or ticking boxes. Our guidance on non-discriminatory decision making has practical examples that are relevant to the coronavirus pandemic for organisations of all sizes. It provides a clear set of principles that you can apply to make sure that you are always acting lawfully and not discriminating against certain groups.
Making fair decisions on returning to work and new working patterns
Ask yourself – am I making decisions based on assumptions about someone’s disability, race, age or sex?
Ensure the decisions you make on returning to work (for example, who to bring back to the physical workplace, who gets extra hours or who is made redundant) are not based on characteristics that are protected under the Equality Act.
Ask yourself – am I setting up ways of working, such as workstations, shifts and home working, in a way that takes into account people’s needs?
Consider implementing or expanding your flexible working options to meet the needs of employees with parenting or caring responsibilities (overwhelmingly women), disabled people and those with long-term illness, particularly mental health conditions. For example, are you able to change shift patterns that let your staff with children manage that, instead of asking them to work in the same way that they did before?
Communicate with employees
Involve employees in decision making processes, paying specific attention to how you do this in a way that takes into account the needs of different groups, such as communicating to employees on maternity leave or communicating in accessible ways to disabled employees. This doesn’t have to be a huge, time-consuming task, it could be calling your staff to make sure they know what decisions you are having to make and hearing their views.
Communication is key, working with your staff often leads to the best solution for everyone.
Track and record impact
If you can, keep a record of your decisions and who they affect to help you look at the impact of your decisions on different groups and think about how you can reduce any negative impact on them. This will also help you to demonstrate why you are making these particular decisions. Doing this will not only help ensure you’re not indirectly discriminating against any specific group, but it might also help you to prove that your decisions where objectively justified.
Read and share our latest advice:
At the Equality and Human Rights Commission, we are eager to see how we can help staff and medium businesses prioritise equality during these changing times and we look forward to talking to you further about this in the webinar later this month. We hope to see many of you there where we can discuss how to make the most of the rapid changes brought about the pandemic to embrace a culture of fairness and inclusion in your workplaces.