Earlier this month, the story of an Australian cricketer who was exempted from wearing a team sponsor’s logo for religious reasons appeared in the press. Despite the furore surrounding this, with some voices in sports media causing controversy with their comments, there is a lesson for employers here. The player expressed “discomfort” at wearing the logo of an iconic Australian beer brand because, as a Muslim, he does not identify with alcohol consumption. The player was granted an exemption from wearing the sponsor logo.
This story highlights issues around the risks of indirect discrimination and employers’ need to be sensitive to individual differences. In a less-enlightened age, the cricketer might have been told to “like it or lump it” but, despite some tweets from others in the sporting world expressing such a sentiment, the cricketer’s request was respected. Fortunately, thinking around cultural differences has moved on in the last few decades, and most workplaces have a better understanding of how they should respond to employees’ individual circumstances and adjust practices where appropriate.
The cricket team’s management did the right thing by granting an exemption – and this case is a good example of the potential for indirect discrimination, where a policy or process inadvertently discriminates against a worker because of their particular characteristics. Religious practices, family commitments and sexual preference are some of the most common areas where established practices can disadvantage individuals.
This case is also a good example of how comprehensive EEO and cultural sensitivity training can be a worthwhile undertaking for both staff and management. Understanding the backgrounds and customs of your colleagues can create a more harmonious work environment, a healthy team culture and more open communication. It can also be a major selling point when attracting new recruits.
Training in this area can be difficult to conceptualise if you are close to the organisation; it is one of the areas where HR outsourcing may provide a clearer perspective from outside the company and a good sense of best practice across the industry. HR providers are also well placed to review policies and entrenched processes for examples of indirect discrimination.