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 what the alleged discriminatory ‘act’ was but 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 figuresof 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 1998) 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 or spurious. Plus the lawyer acting for the employee hadn’t really read the evidence well enough before making the demands for £50,000 initially.
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.
MORAL OF THE TALE
Always assume that what you write in an email may become evidence in an Employment Tribunal.
If in doubt, don’t write it, let alone send it!!
HOW can you prevent this happing in your business?
Remember that you spend a lot of time at work so don’t spoil things by being ‘naive’ or treating others disrespectfully.
Management training is very important to ensure that everybody understands the consequences of their actions. Policies should also be available to all members of staff to understand and observe but make sure you follow them and act promptly if they are disregarded by managers or employees.
In this case, a new policy on email content was swiftly introduced, with guidance for managers and training.
Subject Access Requests are an employee’s right and they are hugely disruptive to your business so try and avoid them happening by being open, honest and fair.
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 call us for a free, obligation review and quotation on 01202 835963