Sports Direct have been accused of indirect race discrimination after an internal notice was distributed to staff banning them from speaking in any language except English, even during personal conversations at work.
Sarah Begley, Solicitor in the Employment team at The Wilkes Partnership, considers the implications of this, and what employers need to consider to prevent potential indirect discrimination.
It is understood that the notice was first spotted in a store in Bangor, North West Wales where workers pointed out that it prevented them from communicating in their own language during working hours. Soon it became evident that the notice had in fact been issued to all stores in the UK.
The company told all of its UK staff that for “health and safety” reasons, workers should not speak in any foreign language even when having a private conversation unless otherwise authorised by management.
Staff were told that those who failed to comply with the notice would be “subject to the disciplinary process”.
An investigation has now been launched by the Welsh Language Commissioner and bosses from the company run by Mike Ashley have been forced to issue an apology, but denied prejudice against the Welsh and any other members of staff that may have been offended by the notice and its contents.
Sarah Begley comments: “Dealing with discrimination and equality issues can be particularly challenging within the workplace. For a company to issue an order for workers to communicate in a particular language, they must identify a clear business reason and the requirement needs to be a proportionate one.
This potentially could give rise to a claim of indirect race discrimination and any large scale action could prove costly for the company. The question turns on whether there is objective justification for the policy in question. This case serves as a useful reminder to employers of the importance of complying with the Equality Act 2010 when introducing company policies.”
The starting point for any organisation in avoiding discrimination issues arising is to implement an equal opportunities policy. The Wilkes Partnership can supply you with an equal opportunities policy (as well as other HR policies) at a fixed price. To find out more about the Wilkes HR Policies for Business package click here.
To discuss anything arising from this update, please contact any member of the Employment Team on 0121 233 4333 or email us at [email protected]