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Employers urged to act against racism as Black Lives Matter protests increase

With demonstrations increasing across the country as the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum, HR professionals are being urged to check with their employees regarding annual leave requests to attend protests and demonstrations.

Thousands of people the world over have taken part in protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota last week. The protests have been against inherent racism and the way that the police treat black people in the US and other countries.

George Floyd died after a white police officer placed his knee on Floyd’s neck and held it there for nine minutes. Despite Floyd repeatedly telling the officer that he could not breathe the officer continued to keep his knee in place.

The police officer responsible for this has been dismissed and a charge of third-degree murder and manslaughter has been brought against him.

Soon after his death thousands of protestors disobeyed social distancing protocol to protest across the US. These protests were also carried out in the UK at Trafalgar Square where a ‘kneel for Floyd’ event was held. Hundreds of protestors also marched through Brixton and Peckham.

Many businesses around the world have made use of social media platforms to issue statements regrading their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Employers and employees of all ethnicities are being urged to address and challenge any racist incidents in their workplaces.

HR professionals have been urged by the CIPD to prioritise diversity and inclusion. It has been suggested that they ‘check in’ with staff. The CIPD stated that there is no place for racism in society today.

A spokesperson for the CIPD said that they had been ‘talking to their people and gathering their thoughts’ about a difficult and extremely emotional period. People have been hurt, the spokesperson said, and as one staff member put it ‘we are not ok.’

The CIPD stated that as individuals and organisations people have a responsibility to make sure that no-one is discriminated against because of race, religion, skin, or gender.

The key focus should be striving for better work conditions while ensuring diversity and inclusion is at the top of all business agendas.

Advice from the CIPD to businesses is to talk to their staff right now and check in with them. There is a great need to move things beyond simply conversation, organisations need to be moved into action.

The statement from the CIPD brought a mixed reaction from many HR professionals, some of whom criticized them on a ‘weak and generic stance.’

Psychologist John Amaechi told Good Morning Britain that people needed to realise that it is not enough to be not a racist, people needed to be proactively and vehemently anti-racist. It is time, said Amaechi, to stand up against racist incidents.

An Instagram poll revealed that 77% of participants said that their workplace had never addressed events which were happening in the black community.

Time off for demonstrations

With further protests being organised in Manchester and Birmingham there is a great likelihood that some staff will plan on joining the Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the UK.

Capital One employment lawyer Mary Goldsbough said that employers may want to think about relaxing policies for annual leave and show support for some employees’ beliefs.

Normally an employer is given notice of leave twice the length of the period they require, but as is the nature of demonstrations and protests, some events are organised at short notice.

Employees should consider allowing staff to take unpaid leave if they have used all their paid leave entitlement. They could also update the policies to allow for a certain amount of time to be allotted for events such as BLM protests.

Ms Goldsbough reminded employers that they had the right to withhold salary and even consider disciplinary action for staff who were absent without permission. However, they would need to justify why requests for leave were refused if they wanted to avoid discrimination claims.

Businesses needed to adopt a consistent approach when dealing with requests to attend such events. It is important that the approach should be applied equally and consistently in all businesses so that claims of discrimination could be avoided.

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