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The recent death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has brought to the fore the variety of opinions on the place of the monarchy in modern Britain. Indeed, this week we saw the arrest of one protestor waiving an anti-monarchy placard as a matter of breach of the peace. With the country still in a period of national mourning and the state funeral for the Queen due to take place next week, we take a moment to provide some tips for employers on how differences of opinion on the Queen’s death and King Charles III’s ascension can be managed in the workplace to prevent arising.
From a business perspective, a degree of healthy disagreement in a team can be good. Not only does it encourage team members to challenge their existing views but it can also provide the stimulus for new ideas and innovation. However, disagreements on more personal views need to be carefully monitored and handled to avoid issues that may arise in relation to bullying, discrimination and unfair dismissal.
The Equality Act 2010 specifically introduces the concept of “religion and belief” as a protected characteristic and provides protection from discrimination from those who hold (or do not hold) a particular religion or philosophical belief. However, the Equality Act does not expressly protect “political” beliefs and much case law has arisen on what is or is not protected – it remains a grey area.
Although unlikely to be a matter covered by the Equality Act 2010, there are many individuals who feel genuinely upset by the Queen’s passing and insensitivity from those with a different view may still cause offence and distress resulting in complaints. To prevent these issues arising, it is good practice for employers to adopt the same approach to this topic as they might any other form of diversity and difference of opinion. This can include training on appropriate behaviour, introducing a Dignity at Work policy and/or issuing a reminder to all staff of what is, and is not, acceptable. For example:
Setting boundaries - employers might remind employees to steer clear of conversations on contentious issues, such as political or other beliefs and to end a conversation when it is becoming heated or clear that others are becoming upset by it.
Acceptance and respect - employees should also be encouraged to demonstrate respect for the viewpoints of colleagues and acknowledge that there may be times when it is best to “agree to disagree”. A statement on promoting a positive working environment can be helpful.
Banter – this term is often used to explain away comments or jokes that have caused offence. Staff should be reminded that what is a joke to one person, can cause serious upset to the recipient of the joke and that such behaviour should be avoided.
Inappropriate language – similarly, employers should make it clear that threatening, abusive or otherwise inappropriate language will not be tolerated as it is likely to cause offence. For the same reason, the displaying of offensive or inappropriate images or other materials should not be permitted.
Speaking out – colleagues can be encouraged to speak out to the person who is causing the problem on an informal basis to explain how they feel and to request the behaviour stops. Often this is enough as the person causing offence may be genuinely unaware of how their comments or behaviour have been taken. However, if an employee feels uncomfortable doing this, they should be reminded that they can approach their manager (or another senior colleague) regarding their concerns. In that case, employers should again, tackle the matter as they would complaints about other issues. Employees should be given the opportunity to resolve concerns informally in the first instance but know that employers will deal with any complaints swiftly and sensitively. If a complaint cannot be resolved informally, employees can be directed to the Grievance Procedure for the matter to be dealt with on a more formal footing.
If you have any questions on this topic or would like to speak to us for advice on another matter, please get in touch with a member of the team.
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