By Legal Futures Associate Access Legal
For some firms, equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) has taken a back seat as a consequence of the Covid-19 lockdowns, but now that things are getting back to some semblance of normality it is important that all firms ensure their EDI policies and procedures are fit for purpose and operate effectively on a day-to-day basis, especially in relation to sexual harassment.
Our latest EDI update webinar will look at key areas that firms and their staff need to be aware of, including:
- A reminder of the Equality Act 2010 rights and obligations
- Diversity in the legal sector
- Equality and diversity in practice
- Issues to watch out for
It is worrying to note that the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) believes that not much has changed in the legal profession in relation to bullying and sexual harassment since a survey was undertaken in 2019 by the International Bar Association and Acritas, for example:
- Policies and procedures – only 53% of respondents had them
- Training – only 22% had undertaken it
- Bullying – 57% of cases don’t get reported
- Sexual harassment – 75% of cases don’t get reported
Over the last 12-18 months we have seen a number of high-profile cases appearing in the news where inappropriate racial and sexual comments were made on social media, for example, people unhappy with black players missing penalties during the Euros; the police have since arrested a number of people and are taking action against them. In one case the person had put their employer’s name on their profile and as a consequence the employer came under scrutiny and has since suffered reputational damage.
Not only can firms suffer from the actions of their staff using social media, but they can also become the centre of attention for regulators when an employee does something outside the office, for example, sexually harassing a colleague at a work event when under the influence of alcohol.
It is key that firms and their employees understand what their obligations are in relation to various forms of discrimination (sex, race, religion, age, disability, etc.) and how breaches can occur in a law firm context.
Regulators are currently working on applying a consistent enforcement approach across the whole legal sector, but they are looking to enhance penalties rather than reduce them, for example, barristers being subject to a 12-month suspension for the lowest form of sexual harassment.
Firms must do all they can to ensure they and their staff meet their EDI obligations, not only because it is a regulatory requirement but also because it is good for business!