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Are you considering your unconscious biases when letting people go?

Older people and pregnant women may be at risk during corona-times, and not just the virus itself.

23.03.2020

Crisis or not, we still have to follow the law. Head of the Gender Equality and Discrimination Ombud, Hanne Bjurstrøm, shares why we must consider our biases in stressed situations. It seems older people and pregnant women may be at risk during corona-times, and not just in regards to the virus itself.

Biases often get more prevalent in stressful situations. Do you expect an increase in unconscious discrimination against specific groups as many companies have to reorganize and temporarily let go of employees?

This has recently been a topic that we have discussed. We see that especially older employees and pregnant women are more vulnerable. When companies or organizations have to reduce staff, either due to economic situations or to reduce the number of people working at the same time, older people and pregnant women are more often targeted. The rationale in this situation is often that they are in the risk group anyway, so it is in their best interest. Sometimes employers have the best intentions, but this kind of personal risk should ultimately be a personal decision handled by the individual employee.

What is important for employers who have to reduce the staff to think about?

It is important to conduct this process in the right way. One has to consider the legislation we have and keep the best interest of both the employer and employee. Don’t take any short cuts, even if they can be tempting. Normal legislation still applies.

The general criteria for temporary leave are the same as before the coronavirus, and as an employer, you are held accountable for discriminating against certain groups. It’s not your right to decide what is best for your employees, with the argument that older and pregnant employees should be the first to leave. The personal risk assessment is up to your employee. If you are seriously concerned about your employees’ health because they are in the risk group, it’s alright to have a conversation with them about your concerns. But this conversation must not be conducted in a way where your employee indirectly feels pressured to accept a temporary or permanent leave.

Follow the news, but not constantly. The dramatic headlines can be mentally draining and could paralyze your creativity.

Many people are now scared, and it is ok to be scared. But being on temporary leave has consequences for everyone. Older employees have a harder time finding a new job if they end up having to do that; they may not have adequate pensions and they still have bills to pay. And for pregnant women, it can have implications on parental leave compensation.

How should companies communicate when they have to temporarily reorganize or let people go?

Very few companies are unfamiliar with having to reorganize or reduce staff. However, the current situation is different due to the abrupt extent of it. My number one advice for employers is to behave as you would always behave in these situations; follow legislation, inform the people involved in a good way and involve the elected or union representative. These representatives are often the best at supporting and communicating with their members. Do as you would do before the outbreak of coronavirus, regardless of how extraordinary these times feel. And as I’ve said previously, do not think for your employees - be open with them and let them think for themselves.

Where should employees go to find information about their rights?

My best advice is to talk to your elected or union representative. You can also contact LDO.

What are your best tips for working remotely?

The best advice I have read is to stay true to your regular habits. Wake up when you usually do for a workday, start your day with a short walk like the walk you would have had to go to work, make sure to have a nice lunch, take a break in the middle of the day. Make your day feel as much like your regular workday as possible.

I think another important thing is to follow the news, but not all the time. You get mentally tired of reading an overwhelming amount of dramatic news every day, and the newspapers really do make dramatic headlines. It can paralyze your creativity and work spirit.

How is the corona-crisis affecting equality and diversity? Spend 2 minutes and get instant feedback on what others are saying. NOTE: Survey is in Norwegian.



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