An employee who was nicknamed “Gramps” by colleagues has been awarded £63,000 by an Employment Tribunal.

Mr Dove, a salesperson at Brown & Newirth Ltd, was the oldest salesperson within the company by about 10 years and colleagues had taken to calling him “Gramps”. The Tribunal found that he was hurt by the nickname and was, therefore, harassed on the grounds of his age. In addition, it was decided that his subsequent dismissal was unfair and discriminatory, using the comments as evidence in support. He was awarded in the region of £63,000 in compensation.

While this decision may not raise any new points, it is useful to remind ourselves of some of the issues regarding harassment in the workplace which can trip people up:

  • What one person may regard as harmless “banter”, another may find unwelcome and demeaning. It can, therefore, be difficult to know where to draw the line.
  • Related to the first point, just because an employee engages in banter, that doesn’t preclude him / her from claiming harassment if offending comments are made. In Smith v Ideal Shopping Direct , the Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that whilst Mr Smith, who was openly gay, engaged in some banter regarding his sexuality, this did not preclude him from treating more “abusive” comments as harassment.
  • An employee doesn’t need to possess the protected characteristic in question in order to be offended. For example, if an employee makes a homophobic comment in the workplace, an employee does not need to be homosexual in order to be offended and allege harassment.
  • Discriminatory comments can also be used as evidence to support other claims of discrimination. For example, if a woman was paid less than a male comparator, evidence of sexist comments could support an argument that such a disparity was because of her sex.

Discrimination claims can be very costly, both from a financial and reputational point of view. Clients can find further guidance on discrimination by logging into MyEW.

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