And yet more encouragement for people to lie to keep out of trouble
Businesses have been warned by a Government watchdog they must individually quiz every member of staff on gay rights - or risk being sued for discrimination. Industrial relations quango Acas has spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money drawing up a detailed 18-question test to establish whether workers are being unfair to any homosexual colleagues. Employers are advised to use the so-called 'audit tool' on all staff, then check their answers against a special score sheet to ensure staff do not have a bad attitude. A poor score earns a 'STOP' warning, which, according to Acas, means the company is at risk of being sued for discrimination.
Questions range from knowing how many gays live in the UK, to whether the business displays a 'rainbow flag' - a symbol of homosexual rights - on the premises. Poor scores are awarded for, for example, any 'jokes or banter' relating to gay or bisexual people. Acas said it was part of the 'Government's drive to promote good practice' on the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. Any firm which is alarmed by its results can ask for two free days consultancy, from Acas, paid for by the taxpayer. An expert will help the firm to develop an 'action plan'. The equivalent cost of the consultancy advice is an estimated 1,000 pounds.
Acas is the Government quango in charge of industrial relations in Britain, and provides advice and a reconciliation service to stop disputes reaching the tribunal stage. It has not sent the quiz to businesses, but they are all required to be up-to-date on Acas advice if they want to avoid being sued, and would be expected to download it from the website. In practice, most companies are so anxious about expensive tribunals in litigious modern-day Britain that they make sure they follow all Acas guidelines.
The test, however, was last night dismissed as a politically-correct waste of employers' time and public money. Business leaders said it was more likely to create rather than solve problems, by raising issues which had not previously caused any concern. Matt Hardman, of the Forum of Private Business, said: 'This is indicative of the state we have got ourselves into over discrimination laws. 'They seem determined to go to ridiculous lengths to flag up something which is unlikely to be an issue in most workplaces. 'In instances where it does arise, it will be dealt with informally in the first few weeks of employment and be dealt with quickly, and in an amiable away. It does not require something like this. 'We must be sensible, not take politically correct steps that are perhaps more likely to create problems than solve them.'
James Frayne, campaign director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'It's bizarre to think that people actually sat down and came up with this idea and thought it was great. 'This is just the latest in a long line of absurd schemes public sector bodies have come up with and which all add up to a small fortune for the taxpayer. Unfortunately, it's very unlikely 2007 will say anything different.'
The questions ask staff if nicknames are more likely to be given to gay members of staff than homosexual ones, or if there is an office equality policy or lesbian, gay and bisexual support group. Answers which Acas wants to see - such as ticking 'no' to the suggestion gay workers are more likely to be teased - receive a green rating, or 0 points. Saying yes would earn a red rating, or two points. A total of 31 points or more earns a 'STOP' rating. This carries the warning: 'Your organisation may well not be properly addressing issues relating to lesbian, gay or bisexual people in the workplace. 'Importantly this suggests that there is a lack of awareness relating to treating people fairly regardless of their sexual orientation, which may mean discrimination on the grounds of people's sexual preferences. 'Remember organisations that discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation, whether perceived or not, leave themselves open to a potential legal challenge under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.' A total of 0-10 is a clean bill of health, while 11-30 means proceed with caution, according to Acas.
Earlier this month, Acas came under fire for warning firms they could be sued unless they ensured office Christmas parties were politically correct. In an extraordinary advice pamphlet, the quango told firms they had a 'duty of care' to drunken staff and could face crippling legal action if they do not get home safely. Managers were also told age discrimination laws could be breached if the music and entertainment caters only for younger staff, and holding a raffle or giving out alcoholic prizes could offend Muslims. It even added a 'proper risk assessment' must be carried out before any decorations were put up, particularly if they could be fire hazards. Businesses said it made holding a Christmas party barely worth their while.
Acas said: 'Promoting equality and diversity and ensuring employees feel valued and can give their best are key issues for today's workplaces. 'This audit tool is designed to give an indication of where (an) organisation is in regard to sexual orientation and gender reassignment.' The organisation added: 'It is definitely not a test; it's designed to bring a sensitive topic out into the open and gauge whether an organisation protects basic equal rights at work whatever the individual's beliefs and practices in their personal lives.'
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