Employers are liable for any contravention of the Equality Act 2010 by their employees, which highlights the need for awareness training in this area. However, a company’s attempt to provide this can sometimes be insufficient, as proven by the case of Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen.

Understanding employer liability

Instances where the Equality Act 2010 has been breached can mean that employers are ‘vicariously liable’ for the acts of their employees.

In some cases, an employer can defend itself by providing evidence that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent the specific act, or any similar acts.

While this type of defence is possible, the threshold for success is typically very high, often relying on evidence of a written equal opportunities policy and the provision of equal opportunities training to employees and managers.

Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen – A case of insufficient training

In the recent case of Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen, the employer was faced with claims of racial harassment by one of its employees. These claims arose after Mr Gehlen had been dismissed by the company, with the individual stating that he had reported the harassment to his manager on several occasions.

Allay (UK) Ltd argued that it had taken all reasonable steps to prevent acts of racial harassment in the company, however, the tribunal established that they had no grounds to prove this. Most notably, it was stated that the diversity training provided to employees and managers was ‘stale’, despite only being delivered two years prior to the incident.

Immediately, this decision highlights not only the importance of awareness training itself, but also the regularity at which it is delivered, and whether it is comprehensive enough to prevent issues.

Allay (UK) Ltd responded by appealing against the decision, but this was dismissed by the tribunal.

During the appeal, the tribunal observed that:

  • Brief and superficial training is unlikely to have a substantial effect on preventing harassment, with any impact unlikely to be long-lasting
  • It is insufficient to simply ask whether training has occurred. Instead, consideration must be given to the nature of the training and the extent of its effectiveness
  • Allay (UK) Ltd’s equal opportunities policy does not make any reference to harassment, with documentation only referring to bullying, and also not mentioning race

How can employers avoid these issues?

In an environment where employment tribunal claims are continuing to rise and the process of raising them is free, the importance of proper equal opportunities training cannot be underestimated.

As outlined in this article, being able to present a solid defence is an extremely effective way of avoiding liability for the actions of employees.

For the best chance of success, employers should ensure that they deliver sufficient equality awareness training on a regular basis, while conducting a thorough review of their equal opportunities policy.

We can help you to establish a fair and non-discriminatory working environment by providing comprehensive training in Equality and Discrimination Awareness. This can be delivered to all employees and managers as part of an ongoing process, giving you peace of mind that your grounds for defence are substantial if they are ever called upon.

To enquire about training, or for guidance on a potential equality and discrimination issue, call us today on 0345 076 2288 or complete the form below.