7 Steps Towards Human Rights and Equality in the Workplace
A Framework for Building a Culture of Equality and Human Rights in the Workplace
Building a culture of human rights and equality in the workplace requires enterprises and organisations to take a planned and systematic approach to equality and human rights. While there is no legal requirement to implement any of these approaches, an organisation interested in embedding human rights and equality in their workplace may find the following seven step framework helpful:
- An equality and human rights policy that sets out the standards to which the enterprise/organisation is committed in relation to employment
- Equality and human rights training that enables staff to understand and achieve these standards for the enterprise/organisation
- Responsibility for equality and human rights that is taken by a committee or appointed person to drive the standard set for equality and human rights
- An equality and human rights roadmap that sets out objectives the enterprise/organisation wants to achieve in relation to equality and human rights and employment and the steps that will be taken to realise these objectives – this plan is based on a review of the equality and human rights situation in relation to employment in the enterprise/organisation
- Equality and human rights impact assessment that would bring equality and human rights concerns into the heart of key decision making within the enterprise/organisation
- Equality and human rights data that is gathered and analysed within the enterprise/organisation in relation to employment and the nine grounds under equality legislation and in relation to groups at risk of human rights violations
- Participation by equality and human rights interests in governance within the enterprise/organisation so that the voice of those experiencing inequality or human rights violations informs policy, procedure and practice within the enterprise/organisation.
The purpose of a planned and systematic approach to equality and human rights is to enable an enterprise/organisation over the long-term to eliminate discrimination, achieve equality, and fulfil human rights. It means that an enterprise/organisation moves beyond reactive approaches where action on equality and human rights is based on dealing with and responding to issues or opportunities in the short-term, and is enabled to embed equality and human rights within its organisational culture.
1. Equality and Human Rights Policy
An equality and human rights policy is the foundation stone for a planned and systematic approach to equality and human rights within an organisation. It serves as a guide for the organisation as to what it aspires to as an employee. It sets out:
- the commitment of the organisation to equality and human rights in relation to employees and those they purchase goods and services from
- the equality and human rights standard aspired to by the organisation in relation to employment
- the steps that the organisation will take to safeguard the standard and to ensure that the standard is implemented.
An equality and human rights policy will set out a statement of standard for its role as an employer in its approach to:
- working conditions;
- workplace culture;
- career progression;
- reasonable accommodation of diversity, including for people with disabilities, equality outcomes for employees, and dismissals and redundancies.
The bottom line for the standard set must be compliance with the employment equality acts and with the international human rights instruments as they apply to the enterprise/organisation and its functions. However an equality and human rights policy aspires to best practice in making adjustments for diversity, achieving equality and fulfilling human rights.
In setting out steps to safeguard the standards set, the equality and human rights policy details procedures for making and dealing with complaints where standards have been breached. It identifies the steps the organisation will take to communicate the policy to employees and service users and ensure they understand the commitments made. It details systems for feedback on implementation from employees and service users. It establishes how the policy will be driven and monitored by management. It identifies the equality and human rights infrastructure the organisation deploys to ensure a planned and systematic approach.
In preparing an equality and human rights policy, the enterprise/organisation accords responsibility for the process, preferably at a senior level. A participative process involves representatives of the diversity of service users and employees as well as staff organisations and relevant representative organisations from civil society. This builds ownership of and commitment to the equality and human rights policy. Peer learning through other enterprises/organisations that have developed their equality and human rights competence deepens the quality of the equality and human rights policy.
Research carried out among Irish employees found that about three quarters of all employees work in workplaces where there is a formal written equality policy (IHRC 2005: 18). The presence of such a policy was associated with a lower level of work stress, higher levels of job satisfaction and organisational commitment and with employee perceptions of equality and fairness within their organisations. The mere presence of an equality policy thus enhances organisational performance.
2. Equality and Human Rights Training
One of the core purposes of equality and human rights training is to ensure an organisation and its staff can reach the standards set out in the organisation’s equality and human rights policy. This training builds staff:
- knowledge about: their rights and responsibilities under equality legislation and human rights instruments; the way discrimination, harassment, and human rights violations occur; and diversity, equality and human rights issues
- skills in: responding to discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, and human rights incidents; promoting equality and supporting human rights; and implementing the standards of the equality and human rights policy
- behaviours: that: are free from discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, human rights violations; and are supportive of diversity, equality and human rights
- attitudes that: appreciate, understand, and support equality, diversity, non-discrimination and human rights.
Equality and human rights training supports personal development for staff, effective staff performance in relation to equality and human rights, good staff working relationships, and a workplace culture that appreciates, understands, and supports equality and human rights.
Training for senior management and line management is important in ensuring an equality and human rights competent leadership on equality and human rights. Training for policy making, human resources and customer relations staff is important in building an equality and human rights capacity in key organisational functions. Training for trainers, new employees, and all staff develops an organisational culture that values equality and human rights.
3. Responsibility for Driving Equality and Human Rights
Equality and human rights is the responsibility of all staff in an enterprise/organisation. This is an important principle. It is, however, valuable to accord responsibility for driving the equality and human rights commitments of the organisation to ensure they get implemented and to enable everyone to take up their responsibilities.
This responsibility can be held by an individual, preferably a senior member of staff with the necessary authority. However, the individual needs to be given time to fulfil this responsibility. A dedicated equality and human rights officer can also be appointed. This could ensure the individual has the necessary expertise for the role.
The responsibility can be held collectively by an equality and human rights committee. The membership of this committee is best drawn from the various departments or units within the enterprise/organisation to spread influence and ownership. It should include representation from groups experiencing inequality or potentially subject to human rights abuses. This enables a range of perspectives to be brought to bear on developing and implementing equality and human rights actions.
4. Equality and Human Rights Roadmap
An employment equality and human rights roadmap sets out the objectives that an enterprise or organisation seeks to achieve in advancing equality and fulfilling human rights for its employees. It identifies the steps that will be taken by the enterprise/organisation to improve its performance on these issues. It provides the necessary context for staff who have done equality and human rights training to use the knowledge, skills, and attitudes developed in their day to day practice. It ensures commitments made and standards set are given practical expression at work.
The equality and human rights plan includes actions, in key functional areas, to:
- prevent discrimination
- provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities
- accommodate diversity
- promote equality
- respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
The impacts of the plan should be measurable with concrete targets. It is important to monitor progress and valuable to celebrate achievements to sustain morale and commitment.
An equality and human rights roadmap can usefully be evidence based if it is preceded by an equality and human rights audit within the organisation. This audit establishes the equality and human rights situation in the organisation in terms of:
- the position and experience of staff;
- the outcomes for and experience of service users; the outcomes for policy beneficiaries;
- the nature and scope of the internal infrastructure to drive an equality and human rights agenda within the organisation.
The preparation of an equality and human rights roadmap is participative. It involves: employees, a diversity of employees, and employee organisations. Insofar as possible diversity needs to encompass the nine grounds covered by equality legislation: gender, civil status, family status, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, religion and membership of the Traveller community. It is also desirable that it would encompass a socio-economic status ground.
5. Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessment
An equality and human rights impact assessment is carried out on a policy or plan at design stage. It seeks to ensure that the policy or plan is compliant with non-discrimination and human rights standards, can take account of diversity, and will advance equality. It tests for potential negative impact and identifies corrective action to redesign the policy or plan. Where redesign is not an option, it involves identifying mitigating actions to address the potential negative impact.
There are four core steps in conducting an equality and human rights impact assessment:
- information and data gathering: gathering and analysing relevant quantitative and qualitative data about groups experiencing inequality or human rights violations
- impact assessment: testing the plan or policy, using the data gathered, to assess for potential negative, neutral or positive impact
- consultation: dialogue with groups experiencing inequality and human rights violations and their representative organisations about the quality of the data gathered, the nature of the impact assessment, and the options to be pursued on foot of the impact assessment
- decision: identifying changes or mitigating actions required to be implemented on foot of the impact assessment monitoring: checking that the actual impacts are as assessed and introducing changes as necessary where this is not the case.
6. Equality and Human Rights Data
The lack of relevant equality and human rights data is an impediment to evidence based action on equality and human rights. This is largely outside the control of organisations. However, organisations do, within the bounds of data protection legislation, collect data on employees, staff and policy beneficiaries. This data, if desegregated across the grounds covered in the equality legislation as well as the ground of socio-economic status, can be a key resource in devising and monitoring action on equality and human rights. Data can be anonymised and used to identify patterns of access, participation and outcome across the ten grounds.
7. Participation of Equality and Human Rights Interests
Participation by staff in the decision making processes of an organisation is a valuable part of the infrastructure for a planned and systematic approach to equality and human rights. This participation may involve individuals as well as the organisations that represent their interests. It ensures:
- a diversity of perspectives is brought to bear in decision making, enabling better decision making in that decisions can take account of different identities, experiences and situations and their practical implications
- access to qualitative data that provides evidence for action on equality and human rights and is key in the absence of adequate quantitative data
- transparency and openness in the work of the organisation.
This participation can be organised within the standard decision making processes. A separate dialogue with these groups and their organisations can also be pursued and linked into the decision making process as appropriate.
Please note that these factsheets are for information only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such.