Thursday, February 17, 2011

Man Claims Sexual Harrassment - Equal Rights or "Political Correctness Gone Mad?"

In a case which has caused much tabloid frothing of the mouth of an "it's Political Correctness Gone Mad" variety - worldwide - John Lewis department stores are being sued by a male former employee who alleges he was sexually harrassed by a female colleague.

Konstantinos Kalomoiris claims that Bianca Revrenna repeatedly slapped him on the bottom when they worked together, despite him having asked her to stop. He claims that on one occasion when he objected she responded that she "did this to all the boys."

It is alleged that when he complained to his manager he was told that he should be delighted that a woman liked him so much.

John Lewis denies any wrongdoing and one of the themes of the case has been the suggestion that the Claimant was oversensitive - for example it is alleged that he refused to sign a leaving card for a colleague on the grounds that they had been rude to him on a one off occasion.

Tabloid comment seems to have mainly been hostile to the Claimant. Whilst we shall have to await the outcome of the case, this does seem unfair. If a male employee repeatedly touched a younger female employee despite her objections, and when she complained her manager suggested she should enjoy it, there would probably be outrage against the employer.

The Equality Act 2010 makes quite clear that the protection against sex discrimination and sexual harrassment applies equally to both women and men.

The definition of harrassment refers to "unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating [the complainant's] dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment [for them.]" The reasonableness of the complainant feeling this way is one of the factors that is to be taken into account, so if someone is genuinely over-sensitive to normal everyday contact their Claim will not succeed. Stripping away all of the tabloid indignation about the case, if you have asked someone not to do something (and therefore shown it is unwanted) and they persist in doing it, especially where this involves touching you on a relatively intimate area of your anatomy, in what is supposed to be a professional working environment, is that really something you should have to put up with?

We shall await the outcome of the case with interest.

The case is reported at:-
http://www.metro.co.uk/news/854536-john-lewis-worker-sues-68-year-old-for-sexual-harassment

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Giving Redundancy Notice by Email - How Not To Make Friends and Influence People

The Army have been forced to apologise after a number of soldiers were given their redundancy notices by email.

In a move which is arguably only topped in the insensitivity stakes by The Accident Group sacking all of its staff by text message, it is reported that 38 long serving warrant officers were sent emails telling them that they were losing their jobs. One of those involved is on active service in Afghanistan - it must be doubtful whether he found the receipt of such an email helpful at a time when he is risking his life for Queen and country.

The message is said to have included the suggestion that they "start planning their resettlement."

Whilst members of the armed forces do not have the same unfair dismissal rights as civilians, any employer who dismissed an employee by email (or similar medium) would be leaving themself open to a Claim.

Although the actual notice can be in any form (and is usually best confirmed in writing to avoid any uncertainty as to whether and when notice has been given) any dismissal that is not preceded by face to face discussion and warning of the risk of dismissal is almost certainly going to be found to be unfair.

It is not clear from the reports whether these officers had any prior warning of their fate and whether the email was simply confirmation of the outcome of a consultation process. If it was then the outraged reactions are perhaps a little unfair, especially as the Army has stressed that commanding officers have spoken to those affected to ensure that they are receiving appropriate advice and support.

The story is reported at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12461211

Monday, February 07, 2011

Race Discrimination - Job Applicant Wins Damages

A man who was turned down for a job with a London estate agent because of his Ugandan accent has been awarded £3000.00 by an Employment Tribunal.

Barnard Marcus estate agents were found to be liable for unlawful race discrimination.

Shemi Leira who is 31 and has lived in the UK for 16 years applied to become a mortgage consultant at one of the Respondent's branches in Central London. Barnard Marcus is part of the national Connells chain.

He was given a 10 minute interview and told the Tribunal that he would be informed of the outcome later that day. Several weeks later he contacted the Respondent to chase up the outcome of the interview and said that he was told that his voice "did not fit in with the company's sophisticated central London market."

He also alleged that the interview had been conducted in a hostile and intimidating manner and had focused more on his origins and reason for being in the UK than on his skills.

The Tribunal found that whilst there was no conscious discrimination the Claimant's African origins and accent had unconsciously influenced the decision not to give him the job.

The fact that the Claimant was only awarded £3000.00 in damages would tend to suggest that these were for hurt feelings and not for financial loss, which would in turn tend to suggest that the likelihood was that he would not have got the job anyway. This would perhaps make sense given that he had, as the Respondent pointed out, no relevant recent experience.

Do not be lulled into a false sense of security however - damages for discrimination can be unlimited and if he had been the favourite to get a very well paid job the bill could have been very much higher - and it will have cost the Respondent more than £3000.00 in legal costs and negative publicity.

The case is another reminder that you can be liable to someone who never works for you and that once facts are proved from which discrimination can be inferred the legal onus is on the employer/recruiter to prove that race had no part whatever in the decision -something that can be very difficult to establish.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Increase in Tribunal Awards - Sacking someone just got even more expensive!

The annual uprating of the figures for "a week's pay" and the maximum Compensatory Award for Unfair Dismissal come into force today, Tuesday 1st February.

"A week's pay" for the purposes of calculating the Basic Award for Unfair Dismissal, Statutory Redundancy Payments and a number of other purposes is now capped at £400.00 (up from £380.00.)

The maximum Compensatory Award for Unfair Dismissal rises from £65,300.00 to £68,400.00. Please do not forget there is no maximum in cases related to discrimination.

If you lose all hands down at the Tribunal the worst case scenario in an "ordinary" Unfair Dismissal claim is now £80,400.00, up from £76,700.00. All the more reason to take advice and get it right.