Monthly Archives: May 2013

Shock and horror – workplace chat about the Woolwich murder


A few years ago a client had a team who came to work after an IRA bombing.

Naturally conversation over coffee break turned to the incident.   Many people were very upset and voiced strong opinions. Some staff voiced their opinion that all Irish people were terrorists.  The boss agreed and everyone returned to work.

The one Irish member of staff was extremely upset by this and felt accused of being a terrorist and a murderer.   They took their employer to an employment tribunal claiming race discrimination.  They won.

Yesterday’s shocking attack on a young man in Woolwich has shocked and angered many people.  The twitter stream and facebook are alive with people expressing their shock and their opinions on who did this and why.

Some people are expressing their views about  ‘all Muslims……’.

Whilst there is a time and a place for legitimate debate on the differences between religion, fundamentalism and politically inspired terrorism the workplace is not the best place for most of this debate.

If you are the boss, today would be a good day to talk to your team and briefly remind them that blaming all Muslims for the acts of some is likely to cause great distress to Muslims in your workforce (and those associated with them) and is likely to be an act of religious discrimination.

It is also a good idea to remind your team not to share videos, emails, tweets etc at work that blame all Muslims for this act.

Check your equality policy, social media policy, and internet policy if you have them.

Our thoughts go out to the family and relatives of the young man whose life was so brutally ended and to anyone in the world who has lost someone due to violence (whatever the reason).


Filed under discrimination

The Freelance culture-putting up with a lot

shutterstock_29072275The recent report on the BBC – the Respect at Work review says freelancers are “excluded from various HR policies”.

We have been helping organisations manage their freelancers, and we know that many HR structures leave non-employees outside the normal remedies for bullying and harassment.

The law doesn’t.  The Equality Act applies to workers, not just employees – so drafting policies that apply only to employees leaves a big gap in your compliance system.

Freelance workers are the backbone of many creative organisations, and it is vital that they are properly contracted and managed.    The BBC is not alone in having more freelancers than employees.  But regardless of numbers, we all need to set up freelance structures in an appropriate way.

There are various individuals campaigning about bullying and harassment in the Arts.  The combination of short term funding, fragile tenure, and a ‘who knows who culture’ is fertile hunting ground for egotistical individuals to exploit young and attractive newcomers.  Temperamental management and tantrums are put down to ‘artistic temperament’, and this sets an example for junior supervisors.

It is chilling to see the report reveal criticism of HR on the grounds they are  “feeding the culture of fear about reporting” – (if true)  But it’s peculiar to see HR criticised by staff as ‘working for the management’ since HR is part of management!  Part of HR’s job would normally be to set up appropriate structures and arrangements for freelance workers and try to protect them from sexual harassment.    HR is not the employees’ voice on the board, nor their representative.

HR needs to make it plain that they are working for the management ― and to make sure they are doing so effectively.

The suggestion that some people accused of sexual harassmentwere protected and promoted is one we have come across in our own work.  Sometimes it is because the allegation (rightly or wrongly) is not believed, and there is no reason not to promote that individual.    We have also seen organisations who feel deeply in the power of their high producers – the million dollar salesperson, or the star.  Even though the organisation may know what is going on, it may feel too difficult to take the financial consequences of removing the individual.

HR should be working for the management and doing their job – creatingcontractual arrangements and structures that mean their organisation is not dependent on individuals in a disproportionate way (succession and contingency planning).

In many organisations HR is already doing this vital work, but in others HR is simply ‘not fit for purpose’ and is relying on a narrow interpretation of ‘best practice’ as a substitute for tackling the real issues in an organisation.

Many organisations are ‘mini-BBCs’ ― and it is truly troubling that some HR people made redundant from these outfits are taking this mindset into a new client base and promoting these policies and ways of working as normal or appropriate for growing entrepreneurial businesses to adopt.

We are working hard to improve the standards for freelance workers ― because that has positive spin-offs across the whole organisation.  We run regular free teleseminars on how to manage freelance workers.  Join the conversation and let’s hear your voice.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050
Fax: 08452 303060
You can follow Annabel on Twitter

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