As if everyone in HR and business is not under enough pressure at the moment, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), in a case Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen has confirmed that it regards training provided 2 years ago on equality and diversity “stale” and ineffective. This was in the context of a racial harassment case. You will be familiar with the idea that in order for an employer to escape liability, if there, is to say that they as employer took all reasonable steps to prevent employees from committing the particular discriminatory act.

It has long been the case that employers present the Tribunal with the fact that the employee protagonist in any harassment case has undergone training and that they have policies of not tolerating such acts of harassment.

If you had asked me to guess how long it took training to become stale and ineffective, I might have said 4-5 years. It is really interesting that the EAT wasn’t going to allow the employer to rely on having given somebody training 2 years ago and suggests that employers are going to need to make some sort of refresher training an annual event. This will of course go for all forms of harassment, so every protected characteristic, not just that of race.

In this particular case, the EAT found that the need for a refresher on a regular basis was amplified by remarks made in the case and the failure of other colleagues to react to the harassment they had witnessed or that had been complained about, and showed the training wasn’t in anyone’s minds. The fact that the protagonist felt that what they had said was just banter was further evidence that the training given had faded from memory and the managers didn’t know what to do when they observed harassment or it was reported to them, suggested that training had also faded from their memories. The particular employer had actually provided further training to the protagonist after the incident so that proved that they also thought further training was necessary, thus the employer couldn’t escape liability.

Having seen a real shift as a result of the MeToo movement, attitudes towards sexual harassment in the workplace and a further big shift as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement means that there is a huge spotlight at the moment over conduct in the workplace and a real sea change in what is expected to be tolerated. It could be that as the generations move into the workforce who are more likely to refuse to accept old norms or tolerate what they see as inappropriate, we see a sea change but for now the employer needs to be driving the change and reinforcing the message whenever it can.

Refreshing Law Ltd

8 February 2021