UK office workers could face dismissal as a result of offensive and joke comments, according to new research by London-based employment law solicitorsThomas Mansfield in an anonymous survey.
“Bisexuals are just greedy”, “In many respects, women are people too” and “Eat your lettuce and shut up!” are just several offensive comments heard recently in workplaces across the UK.
Meredith Hurst, partner at Thomas Mansfield said:
“Offence of any kind in the workplace, can create a toxic and unpleasant environment, affecting staff morale and productivity. In our experience, complaints of bullying appear to be on the increase. Employers who fail actively to deal with the perpetrators of bullying, and the underlying causes of conflict, will undoubtedly experience high staff turnover.
The obligation to provide a safe and stress-free working environment may amount to an implied term of the employment contract. In extreme cases, a victim of offence in the workplace may have grounds to bring a constructive dismissal claim.
In the UK there are a list of protected categories (Equality Act 2010 [part 2, chapter 1, section 4]) which cover characteristics such as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation so to see many of these broken on a day to day basis is unbelievable in an evolved office environment.
The collated comments below are a selection of the most offensive:
“You can’t contribute, you’re only 20” – Age
“Bisexuals are just greedy” – Sexual orientation
“If she’s pregnant she doesn’t want a career” – Pregnancy
“In many respects, women are people too” – Gender
“The French are always on strike” – Xenophobia
“Why is he so angry? Must be ginger rage!” – Hair colour
“She’s tiny, she’s the perfect height for a…” – Height
“Eat your lettuce and shut up!” – Vegetarians
“She’s only here because she’s rich and she knows somebody” – Wealth
Hurst added: “People commonly complain of ‘harassment’ without understanding its true legal meaning. Harassment in a legal sense must be on the basis of a protected characteristic including race, sex, disability and sexual orientation. Harassment, or more generally, ‘being picked on’ for another reason (for example being overweight, hair colour etc.) whilst not giving rise to an actionable discrimination claim may still cause staff to complain of bullying in the wider sense. Of course, if the offensive comment or action has a discriminatory feature (on the grounds of race, sex etc.) then the victim may also have grounds to bring a discrimination claim.
“Employers should focus on encouraging an inclusive workforce, regular and effective staff and management training, as well as a consistent and reasonable approach to disciplinary action. Ultimately harmonious staff relationships are reflected in a company’s bottom line and the value of tolerance should not be underestimated.”