A tribunal has warned employers that they must not only have anti-discrimination policies in place but must also ensure that they are “communicated effectively”, after finding an Aboriginal economic development company vicariously liable for race discrimination. This decision is a reminder to employers to make sure they communicate policies and processes to employees on a regular basis and ensure this is documented.
In this case, the technical support and administration officer who commenced with the employer in December 2013, under an Indigenous wage subsidy program, alleged discrimination by the general manager and his assistant.
The employee alleged that the general manager made a number of inappropriate comments including that Indigenous people relied too much on handouts, took liberties and cheated the system. The general manager’s assistant is also alleged to have made offensive comments, such as referring to “f___ black people sh__” when an aboriginal rap song came on the car radio.
The NT Anti-Discrimination Tribunal set compensation for damages at $8000 against the consultant and $4000 against the assistant, but reduced it to $6000 and $3000 respectively and ordered the employer to pay the remaining $3000 because of its vicarious liability.
The Commissioner found the “mere existence” of the employer’s “policies and procedures manual” and a clause in its employment contracts obliging workers to “represent the organisation in a professional and respectful manner at all times” were “insufficient” to show it took all reasonable steps to prevent the conduct.
The above comments by the Commissioner are a warning to employers that merely having policies in place is not a legal defence and failing to ensure that policies are communicated effectively to all employees can result in a costly and time-consuming legal dispute.
Communicating policies effectively to employees includes providing the appropriate training to all employees when they commence employment and ensuring that regular refresher training is provided.
One training methodology that is gaining popularity is a blended approach. Blended learning uses a combination of online and face-to-face learning to teach students. That means combining the different forms of learning to ensure learning is tailored to the employees’ individual needs. Some of the advantages of blended learning are:
- Flexibility in how to engage learners and deliver training in ways that are efficient and effective; and
- The ability to customise training, adapting content to the work environment.
Stephen Bell, Founding Director and CEO of iHR Australia, believes a blended approach to workplace learning can assist in ensuring that policies are communicated effectively to employees. He advises that an effective approach requires learning and development professionals to take time to choose their interventions. He notes that in the eLearning field there has been a tendency to buy access to hundreds of modules without really knowing their quality or effectiveness.
iHR Australia believes that prevention is the best cure and a blended learning solution can help minimise the potential for discrimination, bullying and harassment claims, and ensure that crucial training in areas such as anti-discrimination are communicated and absorbed effectively. Organisations can also be safer in the knowledge that they have provided appropriate training to their staff in the event of a discrimination, harassment or bullying claim. iHR Australia offers a range of training solutions which can be integrated into a blended learning approach.