A friendly workplace culture and good-humour between colleagues is often valued by employees. However, there is a well-reported, fine line between what may be considered harmless “banter” and what may amount to unlawful discrimination or harassment under the Equality Act 2010. In this case, the Claimant succeeded in her claims for sexual harassment and constructive unfair dismissal after reports that, amongst other things, her line manager frequently referred to her as a “good girl”.
Discrimination and harassment cases are assessed subjectively and it is not a defence for an employer to say, for example, an employee is particularly sensitive. In practice, this can be difficult for employers to manage and, as highlighted in this case, certain words which may once have been considered harmless may evolve to be unacceptable.
Defending cases for unlawful discrimination and harassment are expensive (with unlimited awards for damages), time consuming and may attract negative publicity and so it is important for employers to consider ways to mitigate the risk of such claims.
This case is a very useful reminder that employers must have appropriate and meaningful policies and training in place for staff on equality and diversity. Where concerns are raised, employers must ensure they are pro-active in their response and always consider whether a “re-fresh” on training is required.
As we start to move into a post-Covid working world, it is a good time for employers to have a review of their current policies and practices and consider whether these would benefit from being renewed.