As we all know, the workplace is a microcosm of our wider society so, no matter how kind and caring a working environment you create, as an employer, you will at some point experience homophobia or transphobia in the workplace.
And whether it is something directed at one of your employees or just general opinions that are being expressed, it is your responsibility to challenge it. Not only is discrimination in the workplace illegal, but it can be damaging in so many more ways, as a demoralised and unhappy workforce will be less productive and will ultimately damage your business.
That’s why, if you want to be running a successful business, then you need to be creating an inclusive workplace. And that means dealing with homophobia and transphobia immediately. Check out our top three tips for nipping it in the bud.
Know The Law
Of course, as a responsible employer or Manager of employees, you will be well versed in the law around discrimination at work, but it’s always wise to keep your hand in nonetheless. However, as this area of law can be particularly nebulous, it’s an especially a good idea to keep up with the latest case law on the issue. A good HR or legal publication or website, such as the one from the Discrimination Law Association, will be able to help you do this
According to the Equality Act 2010, harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct which violates someone’s dignity or creates an intimidating, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”
Obviously, the downside of that is that it is a very subjective definition; what one person defines as humiliating or offensive, someone else might laugh just off as ‘banter’.
For this reason, the law often comes down firmly on the side of the victim; if the person in questions feels discriminated against, then they have been. For this very reason, it is always wise to err on the side of caution; if certain members of your team are sailing close to the wind with their banter (i.e. they are, or potentially could be, causing another person – even if it’s not a member of your staff directly – distress) then it is up to you to put a stop to it.
And if you’re ever not sure about whether the behaviour of one of your employees behaviour could be interpreted as homophobic or transphobic, then there are plenty of resources available online, such as from Stonewall, that could help you identify the issue and deal with it appropriately.
Furthermore, regular training, both for your employees and your senior management team, is crucial, to ensure everyone knows the boundaries and what is expected of them. If your team are regularly trained on how to spot and eradicate homophobia and transphobia, then it is less likely to occur in the first place and you are therefore less likely to have an issue that needs resolving.
Address The Issue
Whether the homophobia or transphobia being expressed is intentional or not – whether it was simply intended as banter but has overstepped the mark, for example – then the best thing you can do is deal with it immediately. Everyone knows that putting your head in the sand and pretending something isn’t happening never solves a problem, but only ever makes it worse.
In the case of homophobia or transphobia being expressed by one of your employees, this is especially the case.
Particularly if you have LGBTQ employees, then it is your responsibility, as their employer, to ensure that their working environment is a safe space, where they are permitted to come and do their job on the same level playing field as their straight or cis colleagues. After all, you employed them because you recognised their ability to do their job well, so you must let them do it in a safe, caring and understanding environment.
Any comments or actions made by the other people they work with, even if not said or done within their ear shot, could make them feel excluded or vulnerable, which in turn will affect their mental health and their emotional wellbeing and, ultimately, their ability to perform their job properly. Not only is this detrimental to the person, but it will also be detrimental to the overall atmosphere in your workplace and your businesses’ bottom line too.
Even if you don’t employ anyone from the LGBTQ community, then just think of the impression the general public will have of your company should anyone hear derogatory views being expressed by your staff. In today’s world of social media and online reviews, that’s a PR nightmare you shouldn’t have to battle.
What’s more, expressions of homophobia and transphobia often come from a place of ignorance on the part of the person expressing them, which in turn is born from a fear of the unknown. If you can address these concerns and dispel the misconceptions through proper training and education, you are not only benefitting the victims of abuse, but the perpetrators as well.
Hence, the minute you hear of any homophobic or transphobic behaviour in your workplace, it is your responsibility to address the issue immediately, before attitudes and cultures become ingrained.
Finally, it’s all very well recognising that there is a problem, but if it’s not going to be followed up with the appropriate action to rectify it, then you might as well not bother with points 1 and 2 at all.
Remember Supernanny? Well, whilst it’s not appropriate to put your employees on the naughty step, the principle remains the same; if there is no punishment for wrongful behaviour, then all you do is issue empty threats, your employees quickly lose respect for you and you, in turn, lose control of the environment you are supposed to be managing.
However, the key here is to remember that the punishment needs to be appropriate for the misdemeanour committed. For example, if one of your staff members has merely made a slightly misjudged comment, born from ignorance, but that hasn’t really offended anyone, then it’s hardly fair to dismiss them immediately for gross misconduct. On the other hand, if an LGBTQ employee of yours has been the victim of a consistent and persistent campaign of abuse whilst at work, then a quick telling off in the canteen at lunch time for the other employees will not cut the mustard.
Here, you will need to draw up a clear and sensible policy document based on sound HR principles and ensure that all your employees are aware of both the policy and the punishments for contravening it. This, again, is where thorough and regular training now can save you a bigger headache further down the line.
After that, you must stick to it, ensuring that the appropriate reprimand is carried out for the appropriate behaviour, every time an issue occurs.
However, once again, if you ensure the boundaries have been laid out at the beginning of the process – so that everyone knows that homophobic and transphobic behaviour will not be tolerated in your workplace – and if you lead by example, by ensuring you create an inclusive workplace with a kind, caring and understanding culture, then you should be able to avoid the problem before it has even arisen.
Get In Touch
If you’d like to find out more about how to avoid or deal with homophobia or transphobia in the workplace, then you can contact Wellspace today. Our team of Workplace Wellness experts are on hand now, to help you with all your HR queries.
You can contact us by emailing info@yourwellspace..com or phoning 0808 178 0748.