Career clinic

Your career dilemmas answered by experts.

Q: I manage a team in older people’s services at a local authority.  I want to restructure my staff as we have too many social workers in the inner city and not enough in the suburbs. The two members of staff I will need to make redundant are the only black members of my team.  I am not racist but am very concerned that I might appear to be.

A: The Race Relations Act 1976 makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person, you employ directly or indirectly. 

Direct discrimination is when a person is treated less favourably on racial grounds than a person from a different race is treated in similar circumstances. Indirect discrimination is when an employer’s practice puts one race at a disadvantage compared to others. 

The burden of proof in discrimination claims means that once an employee proves facts from which a tribunal could conclude the employer has committed an act of discrimination, it is for the employer to prove that it has not discriminated on racial grounds. 

The best way to show that you are not discriminating against your employees is to operate a fair, transparent and justifiable selection criteria for redundancies.  You need to make sure there is a legitimate aim for the redundancies. In your case there is a justifiable business need to restructure your service to meet the requirements of your clients. 

To avoid direct discrimination, therefore, you should obviously make sure that staff responsible for selecting employees for redundancy do not do so on racial grounds.  In addition, selection criteria for redundancies should be examined to ensure that they are not indirectly discriminatory. 

As part of the redundancy exercise you will need to investigate whether there are suitable alternative positions available. It may well be (depending on the location etc) the suburban vacancies are suitable alternatives. In any event you should give the relevant individuals the opportunity to consider these.

As a local authority you will need to consider the additional duties on public bodies to promote race equality. For example, you may need to consider whether it is necessary to carry out a race impact assessment in respect of the proposed restructure (as the restructure appears to have a detrimental impact on a particular racial group).  If you are unsure about how to proceed you should seek legal advice.

Makbool Javaid is a solicitor at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary

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