This case study is about a sex discrimination claim that very nearly went very wrong for the client because of the contents of an email. Again all true and really happened.
This 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. There were always practical jokes being played and emails went backwards and forwards, often containing inappropriate or potentially dangerous content.
When I first learned of what had happened, I have to admit, I was worried for them.
They had recruited a new receptionist, a young(ish) girl and she had been working for them for about 10 months. One day, the receptionist came into work, told them she was pregnant and that she was going to sue them for Sex Discrimination and promptly walked out. I won’t say exactly what the alleged discriminatory ‘act’ was but I did not doubt that it probably happened.
Well, she did take them to an Employment Tribunal and her lawyer was looking for a settlement of at least £5,0000 to settle the claim ‘out of court’. She 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.
In one of the emails a manager had said “oh … just offer her 50p and tell her to …… off”
The outcome was that the case eventually settled for £500 because evidence proved that many of her allegations were inaccurate but it was a huge learning curve for the Company and could have gone very wrong. The costs to defend the allegations were not cheap, and the disruption to the business was massive. Needless to say, a new policy on email content was swiftly introduced together with some guidance on what behaviour is and is not appropriate at work regardless of how it is received.
You spend a lot of time at work and it should be a positive experience so don’t spoil it by being naïve and BE CAREFUL what goes into WRITING. Everything is admissible in court and it is very easy to get the evidence. 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.