Blog
Mar 28
A Story about a Sex Discrimination Claim what can go wrong when 'banter' and 'horseplay' become the 'norm'.

Sex Discrimination & Email – Be Careful!

What are your Managers putting in their emails about your employees?

This TALE is about a sex discrimination claim that nearly went very wrong for an employer because of the contents of an email.

THIS IS A TRUE STORY

A client had been running a successful small business for many years. ‘Banter’, general ‘fooling about’ and ‘horse play’ were common in the workplace and nobody had any issues with it.  Practical jokes were common place and emails went backwards and forwards, often containing inappropriate or potentially dangerous content.

A COMPLAINT was on the horizon.

A new receptionist had been recruited.

She was a young(ish) lady and had been employed for about 10 months. One day, she came into work and announced to her manager that she was pregnant.  

She also announced that she was going to sue the company for Sex Discrimination and promptly walked out.

It is not really relevant to say exactly what the alleged discriminatory ‘act’ was but there was little doubt that it had probably happened due to the culture that was festering away within the workplace.

Bring in the EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL 

The lawyer (appointment by the ex-employee) was looking for a settlement of at least £50,000 to settle the claim ‘out of court’.

The employee had also issued a Subject Access Request (under the Data Protection Act) so that she could see everything that the company had on her or had said about her in emails.

WHAT was in the offending email?

A senior manager had said “oh … just offer her 50p and tell her to **** off

WHY was that a problem?

Well mostly, because it was totally inappropriate but more so, because it was evidence that the Company was likely to have committed the offence in question.  It certainly DIDN’T help.

WHAT was the outcome?

The case eventually settled for £500 because the evidence proved that many of her allegations were inaccurate,  spurious and there were allegations that behaviour within the workplace was also ‘suspect’.

However … getting to this point in the proceedings had incurred extensive legal costs for the employer, damage to their reputation, and an immense amount of management and HR time to try and limit the damage caused.

Needless to say, a new policy on email content was swiftly introduced together with some guidance on what behaviour was or was not appropriate at work regardless of how it is received promptly followed by some serious TRAINING for managers.

MORAL OF THE TALE

You spend a lot of time at work and it should be a positive experience so don’t spoil it by being naïve.   BE CAREFUL what goes into WRITING. Everything is admissible in court and it is very easy to get the evidence via a Subject Access Request.

Remember, you do not have to have two years’ continuous service to bring a claim for Discrimination, whatever the type of alleged discrimination. Compensation is uncapped so it can be a very expensive mistake to make.

For help with policies and procedures to protect you, your employees and your business, please get in touch.