This month the news is full of diversity and equality – calls to support and engage on a wide range of matters such as neurodiversity, LGBTQ+ and race and ethnicity. There is also a focus on health – with updates on fit notes to calls for action on mental health and menopause.
- Diversity: Neurodiversity in Business forum launched to support neurodiverse employees
- Diversity & Equality: Government’s LGBT+ Business Champion issues call to engage
- Equality: Government publishes response to Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report
- Health: Fit notes may be issued digitally without a wet-ink signature from 6 April 2022
- Mental Health: DHSC publishes discussion paper and call for evidence
- Menopause: Workplace pledge signed by over 600 employers
Diversity: Neurodiversity in Business forum launched to support neurodiverse employees
On 21 March 2022, Neurodiversity in Business (NiB) was launched at the Houses of Parliament to support neurodiverse employees in the workplace. Between 15% and 20% of the population are estimated to be neurodivergent. Dan Harris, Chief executive of NiB, states that although employers increasingly recognise the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce, neurodivergent employees need improved support. NiB and founding members, such as Accenture, AstraZeneca, Bank of England, Capita, Network Rail, Sky and Unilever, recognise that reasonable modifications can enable more neurodiversity in the workplace and also benefit sustainability. The new forum will work with organisations that support neurodiversity including Auticon, Ambitious about Autism, the ADHD Foundation, the British Dyslexia Association, Diversity and Ability and the National Autistic Society.
Diversity & Equality: Government’s LGBT+ Business Champion issues call to engage
On 18 March 2022, the government’s LGBT+ Business Champion, Iain Anderson, issued a call to engage to employers, staff networks, trade unions and civil society organisations with practical experience of creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, supporting LGBT+ inclusion and improving outcomes and experiences for LGBT+ people. He is looking for practical examples that work of what businesses are doing to improve LGBT+ outcomes and experiences in the workplace. The call to engage is not for personal experiences or views.
The questions ask for information on the following issues:
- The collection of LGBT+ diversity and inclusion data and how effective this has been.
- How organisations have been able to improve the outcomes and experiences of LGBT+ employees in the workplace and how effective this has been. Where possible, respondents are asked to disaggregate measures taken in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans employees.
- In countries where LGBT+ people routinely experience discrimination, what organisations are doing to support the safety and advocacy of LGBT+ staff.
- How organisations can have a positive social and economic impact on LGBT+ equality, including in countries where LGBT+ people routinely experience discrimination. In particular, comments are welcomed on impacts outside the organisation, for example, having a positive influence through supply chains, distributors and customers.
The consultation closes on 28 April 2022.
Equality: Government publishes response to Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report
On 17 March, the government has published its response to the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities made a number of recommendations to address ethnic and racial disparities across society. The response confirms that mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting will not be introduced. However, organisations who choose to publish their figures will be required to publish a “diagnosis and action plan“, setting out reasons why disparities exist and what will be done to address them. Guidance on voluntary ethnicity pay gap reporting, to be published in summer 2022, will be designed to help employers address some of the challenges around ethnicity pay gap reporting. It will include case studies drawn from organisations which have already chosen to report on their ethnicity pay, setting a benchmark for what a good action plan might cover.
The report also tackles the use of artificial intelligence in recruitment processes and automated decision-making. A white paper, to be published later in the year, will deal with how to address potential racial bias in algorithmic decision-making. To ensure technological advances do not have a disproportionate impact on ethnic minority groups, the EHRC will advise on the safeguards needed and issue guidance that explains how to apply the Equality Act 2010 to algorithmic decision-making.
The government has accepted the Commission’s recommendation that the acronym BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) is unhelpful, and it has stopped using the term in its own communications. It is more productive to consider the disparities and outcomes of specific ethnic, rather than homogenous, groups. Where it is absolutely necessary to draw a binary distinction between the ethnic majority and ethnic minorities, the government will use the term “people from ethnic minority backgrounds“. The response also states that terms such as “white privilege” can be seen as stigmatising and potentially divisive, as they have the unintended consequence of pitting groups against each other.
The response includes a package of other measures designed to improve diversity and inclusion, including additional funding for the EHRC, an “Inclusion at Work Panel” which will disseminate diversity resources to employers, and updated guidance for employers on positive action, to be published by the end of the year.
Health: Fit notes may be issued digitally without a wet-ink signature from 6 April 2022
In its July 2021 response to the 2019 consultation document “Health is everyone’s business: proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss“, the government committed to removing the statutory obstacles to the digital issuing of fit notes. Currently, fit notes must be signed in ink by the issuing doctor, although given the significant shift to virtual GP consultations since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been increasing demand for fit notes to be provided digitally.
The Social Security (Medical Evidence) and Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) (Amendment) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/298) were made on 14 March 2022 and come into force on 6 April 2022. They amend the Social Security (Medical Evidence) Regulations 1976 (SI 1976/615) and the Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) Regulations 1985 (SI 1985/1604). The new Regulations prescribe a new form of fit note, which will be used in parallel with the existing version of the form. The Regulations remove the requirement for the fit note to be signed in ink and the new form of fit note no longer contains a signature box.
Mental Health: DHSC publishes discussion paper and call for evidence
The Department for Health and Social Care has published a discussion paper and call for evidence on improving mental health and wellbeing, which includes the development of a ten-year plan to reduce the prevalence, incidence and recurrence of mental ill-health.
The discussion paper suggests compassionate employers are needed, who will protect and promote positive mental wellbeing by understanding and meeting physical and mental needs in the workplace. Two key challenges that were identified through the Thriving at Work are reiterated in the document:
- the need for a clear role for employers to prevent the onset of mental health conditions and mental ill-health, and
- wider implementation of workplace interventions to support mental health.
The role for employers to support mental wellbeing is further highlighted in the discussion around early intervention. Employers are identified as an important source of support for employees who may not need “clinical” early interventions. This section also highlights that in those instances, employers may need support and information to provide support for a distressed employee.
The consultation is open to all, and responses will be collected through an online survey until 11.45 pm on 5 July 2022.
Menopause: Workplace pledge signed by over 600 employers
More than 600 employers have signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge, which is part of a campaign by Wellbeing of Women. In signing the pledge, employers recognise that the menopause can be a workplace issue for which employees need support. Signatories commit to open, positive and respectful workplace dialogue about the menopause and to taking active steps to support employees affected by the menopause and informing them of the support offered. Active measures have already been undertaken by some signatories: the Royal Mail has run an internal campaign to normalise conversations about the menopause, Tesco plans to incorporate a breathable fabric into its uniform to help with hot flushes, and News UK has said it will cover the cost of NHS HRT prescriptions and provide desk fans.
Last week, a survey of 1,000 HR professionals, (conducted by YouGov on behalf of Irwin Mitchell) revealed almost three-quarters of employers (72%) do not have a menopause policy and that only 16% of employers train line-managers on the menopause. The CIPD has reminded employers that positive action, such as engaging with this pledge and having a policy that outlines available support, must be “underpinned by a culture where people are actively encouraged to have open and supportive conversations“. It has its own Guidance for employers on how to better manage those affected by menopause at work, which can be accessed here.
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