We were having one of our regular in-house training sessions on Wednesday and got into a discussion about bullying and harassment in the workplace. Whether as a result of the #metoo campaign or not, we are seeing a significant increase in accusations and employers are having to spend more and more time investigating claims, obtaining evidence and potentially bringing disciplinary action.
As with many of our training sessions, we explore a number of what-if scenarios and this week we got onto the topic of Veganuary. For those of you who don’t know, this is a drive to encourage people to try Veganism in the month of January. There are many reasons why people will or won’t become Vegan and these are usually personal, but what happens when those beliefs start to impact the workplace?
What happens if the pizzas you order on Friday are not suitable for Vegans or the chocolates you bring in to share, or the sandwiches for that lunch meeting? If you continue to exclude Vegans from the food options are you discriminating against them? Could they feel bullied or victimised or excluded by your behaviour, especially if you (or someone in the team) knowingly repeats the behaviour.
The answer is potentially, yes!
As an employer, you have a duty of care to all your staff and need to ensure that all staff feel included and catered for, in this case quite literally.
While doing some research around Veganuary, we also came across PeTA’s guidelines for non-offensive phrases. You are now encouraged to watch your language as well as what you serve to vegans (and I assume vegetarians). You are no longer ‘bringing home the bacon’, but ‘bringing home the bagels’, you are no longer ‘killing two birds with one stone’ but ‘feeding two birds with one scone’. You get the idea. If you want more animal-friendly idioms, they can be found here.
While we may jest at these attempts to protect animals, as employers we must be aware that people with certain beliefs can easily become the victims of thoughtlessness, bullying and lack of understanding. As the employer, your beliefs are not relevant, it is the perception of the employee which must be considered. “Political correctness gone mad” my father would say, but the reality of today’s workplace is that people want to be respected for their diverse views and whether it is Veganism or anything else, as the employer, you and your staff must respect other people’s views and failure to do so may well lead to allegations, grievances, disciplinaries and ultimately, potentially, employment tribunals.
Having a clear, legally compliant policy is essential (often a code of conduct) and ensuring that all staff are adequately trained is a vitally important element of creating a respectful, productive and successful workplace.