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A discrimination-free workplace saves companies from hefty lawsuits

A discrimination-free workplace saves companies from hefty lawsuits

Simon Wilkins, LexisNexis

Fox News recently came under fire after 11 of its employees hit the organisation with a class action lawsuit alleging widespread racial discrimination, writes Simon Wilkins.

Sadly, Fox News is not the only organisation that has been accused of allowing this sort of misconduct. For years, the cultures of some organisations have been rife with discriminating behaviours which by no means should be tolerated by any employee.

With widespread discriminatory violations continuing to be committed across organisations, the rule of law is directly related to the implementation and enforcement of rights, and respect for the rule of law is inextricably linked to the way companies engage in business, and the ethics of workplace relations.

Preventing discrimination in the workplace

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, discrimination occurs when a person or group of people are treated less favourably because of their background or personal characteristics, such as race, age, disability or gender orientation.

As in the case of Fox News, employers can be hit with a hefty lawsuit if they are found to have engaged in discriminatory acts under the aforementioned characteristics.

One effective way to curb this is by implementing a strong and unambiguous equal opportunity policy. This framework should state in simple language what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in the workplace. Employers should also make an effort to reiterate these policies to all employees to ensure that they are known and understood throughout the organisation.

Any discrimination issue brought to an employers’ attention needs to be resolved quickly. The longer a company leaves a potential case of discrimination unaddressed, the greater the chance for workplace legal action. Employees have legal rights that protect against workplace discrimination, and penalties for breaching them are substantial. It is in the best interest of any organisation to have anti-discrimination policies in place not only to protect their staff, but also to protect the business from potential lawsuits.

Anti-discrimination laws encourage diversity

Anti-discrimination laws exist to protect employees who come from different backgrounds. This in turn encourages a more diverse and inclusive work environment where employees’ skills and cultural perspectives are respected and valued.

It is through creating a more inclusive workplace free of discrimination that an organisation is able to achieve better business outcomes. However, diversity at the workplace becomes ineffective if it’s not encouraged and supported by the senior leadership team.

Strong values = stronger economy

As the corporate world diversifies, there’s a real opportunity for business leaders to influence and bring about positive change and to ensure that representation within organisations is reflective of society at every level.

A number of studies suggest that diverse workforces perform better financially. In fact, a McKinsey study echoes this sentiment, drawing conclusions that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

As organisations operate in an increasingly connected world, our understanding of diversity should not be limited to it being about gender, age and ethnic background alone. Diversity in today’s modern era is also about extending access, fairness and equality across the organisation. It is this type of diversity that cultivates innovation and ensures the prosperity of an organisation.

Progressive businesses are those that consciously make an effort to ditch any unconscious bias around race, age, disability and gender, and illuminate the path to career success based on merit. It is critical for organisations to meet high standards of good governance, transparency and ethical practices within the environments they operate.

Simon Wilkins is a general manager at LexisNexis.

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