This year’s John Lewis Christmas advert features the small and excitable dragon, Edgar. For those who have not seen it yet, Edgar is keen to join in with the seasonal festivities but his fire-breathing keeps causing chaos. The local community shuns poor Edgar and he is left feeling ostracised and left out. That is until a young girl reaches out to him and shows him and the townspeople that his unusual skills can be put to good use.

The fun article below highlights some HR tips about allowing staff to bring their whole selves to work, encouraging talents to be harnessed to allow staff to release their full potential and reminding us that good leaders often possess soft skills such as kindness, patience and understanding.

But are there any legal lessons to be learnt from Edgar’s treatment?

Under discrimination law, an employee is directly discriminated against if he or she is treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic. The nine categories of protected characteristics are age, disability, gender re-assignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex, religion or belief and sexual orientation. Fire-breathing is not a protected characteristic, but imagine if it was... 

Poor Edgar is arguably being treated less favourably than other townspeople, whose circumstances are not materially different to his own, save for the fact that they are not fire-breathing dragons. Edgar is therefore being discriminated against. Admittedly, this treatment is not happening in the workplace and Edgar does not have a protected characteristic, but the advert does highlight issues about equal opportunities and inclusion for all. 

So what can employers do to reduce the risk of discrimination happening in their workplace?

  • It is important to ensure that there is a comprehensive Equal Opportunities policy in place to help promote equality and diversity in the workplace and ensure that staff understand that their employer does not tolerate discrimination. Such a policy helps set the minimum standards of behaviour that is acceptable at work and reduces the risk of a discrimination claim arising. 
  • The policy should be given publicity, so always ensure that any revised policy is circulated to all employees, with an acknowledgement that they have read and understood it. Also ensure that it is drawn to the attention of all new starters.
  • The policy should be implemented alongside proper training so make sure appropriate training is given to a managers and on any specific areas of concern. A good training program can also sometimes help an employer successfully defend a discrimination claim that is brought against them. 
  • As well as having an Equal Opps policy in place, it is important to ensure that if there is a breach of the policy that the appropriate action is taken, any alleged discrimination is thoroughly investigated and that all breaches are dealt with consistently.