How to handle workplace discrimination

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» How to handle workplace discrimination

Discrimination isn’t always easy to spot.   

By discrimination, we mean, being treated worse than others without good reason.  You might be able to spot 'direct' discrimination - when people who share a protected characteristic are directly excluded in some way. In most countries, characteristics such as sex/gender, race/ethnicity, religion/belief, age and so on are protected.

'Indirect' discrimination is when there is some unnecessary policy or practice that has more of a negative effect on protected groups. Unlawful 'indirect' discrimination may be much harder to spot, but can still be very common.  

Is veganism a belief?

In every choice that we make, outside of survival situations, we are expressing our beliefs. In many countries, the law protects vegans on the basis that veganism is an ethical or philosophical belief. For example, to be protected under The Equality Act 2010 in England, Wales, and Scotland, a philosophical belief must:

✦ Be genuinely held [by you yourself].

✦ Be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.

✦ Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.

✦ Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.

✦ Be worthy of respect in a democratic society,compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

You're being teased at work - but where do you draw the line?

The line between teasing and harassment is quite thin. Much depends on the workplace, the individuals, their interpretations, and their perceptions: what is banter to one person might be deeply offensive to another. 

What do you do when banter becomes offensive? Is it ever okay to tease someone for something they believe in?

If you are having problems at work because of your belief in veganism, or your commitment to vegan living, then this could be considered harassment in the eyes of the law, and is most definitely not okay. Some cases are best tackled informally. Others may have become so sustained or so serious that further intervention is needed. What’s important to remember is that you are not alone. No one should have to endure bullying or harassment at work, at any time, for any reason.

What to do if things get difficult

Your colleagues might enjoy teasing you, but you’ve had enough. Follow these tips and before you know it, they’ll be asking you how to cook tofu, sporting the latest vegan shoes… and stealing your soya milk!

1) Try to deal with the issue informally first

✦ Tell them that certain things they’re saying are just not on.

Very often, people don’t realise that their comments are hurtful. If they knew how much being vegan matters to you, or how strongly you hold veganism as a belief, they might tone it down.

✦ Teach others what you know about veganism.

Have answers prepared for frequently asked questions. Educate your colleagues about why you are vegan, what veganism is, and how it changed your life, in a positive way.

✦ Bring in some vegan goodies to share around.

Show your colleagues that vegan-friendly food can be both delicious and satisfying.

✦ Try to keep calm.

If someone is teasing you, it’s usually because they want you to rise to it. Try not to let yourself get wound up, though often that’s challenging. Offer to talk privately at another time, if they actually want to know more. Take a breather outside, talk to a sympathetic colleague or perhaps phone a friend.  Remember, it is OK to feel angry; try to use your anger in a positive way rather than letting the emotion use you.  

✦ Practice some key responses.

Sometimes, some people will learn to respect you, if you feel safe and able to stand up for what you believe in. If you can practice some key responses, you may find it gets easier to communicate assertively.  It is also OK to decide that you do not feel safe or able to respond, and walk away from the confrontation, too. 

✦ Remember that everyone is different

What will help one person understand your vegan beliefs may not work with another. Finding the right approach with each of your colleagues might take a little time.

2) Take things further if that doesn’t work

✦ Follow your company’s bullying and harassment procedures, and make sure your company follows them too. If it doesn’t, you can raise a formal grievance. 

✦ Keep a detailed diary of each and every incident, including all emails and social media comments (if applicable).

✦ If you’re in a union, let your representative know what’s going on, and consider joining one if you currently are not. 

3) Seek legal advice as a last resort

✦ If life at work continues to be unbearable, and all other avenues have been explored, you could consider legal action.

✦ Bear in mind that raising a legal case can be incredibly stressful and add more anxiety to the situation, but could also help you to bring the issue to a resolution.

✦ Consider meeting with your solicitor; many offer a free initial consultation, and may take your case on a no-win no-fee basis. In the UK, Bar Pro Bono is a good place to start.

Equality in the workplace: what the law says

Equality is one of the core principles in international human rights law. For example, there has recently been an encouraging flurry of interest in protecting beliefs like veganism in Europe, following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

What has changed in European law?

✦ It has been made clearer that vegan employees may refrain from certain work duties. Employers are required to find the right balance between competing considerations: looking at the impact on the business, on the individual making the request, and on other employees and customers if the request is or is not granted.

✦ Vegan employees now have a right to promote veganism at work, where it is appropriate to do so.  We must not cause harassment or impose our views on others nor abuse a position of power.

✦ Employers must make a clear commitment to equality and human rights, where necessary implementing new policies in your workplace and explaining what it means to other members of staff through training. There should already be a complaints procedure in place, including arrangements for dealing with discrimination if it arises. Read more on the guidance issued by the UK Equalities and Human Rights Commission here.

There is a lot of detailed information about the rights of vegans in different parts of the world on The International Vegan Rights Alliance web site

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