Legalities in an office can be very difficult – what some people see as “banter” others see as “bullying”. Making sure a zero-tolerance culture is implemented is always the best solution given that flippant comments can have heavy repercussions for both the employer and employee. Let’s not forget when airport worker Alicja Derwich was fired for bullying a colleague who had unfriended her on Facebook. Derwich was suspended for her inappropriate behaviour, but when she appealed her dismissal for gross misconduct the judge ruled in her favour. Derwich was awarded £7,430.73, together with costs of £1,200. Thomas Mansfield revealed that “Bisexuals are just greedy”, “In many respects, women are people too” and “Eat your lettuce and shut up!” are just some of the offensive comments heard recently. 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. “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.” 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 This follows on from previous research by Thomas Mansfield in April 2015, which revealed that discriminatory questions were still rife during interviews. The company surveyed UK graduates and asked: “what’s the worst question you have ever been asked at interview?” Whether it’s just ill-advised, or something that’s always been the “norm”, it’s a bit shocking to hear some of the questions. “Will you be going back to Jamaica to work?” (I’m French) “Do you get PMT?” “What do you think about dating someone in the office?” “Is that a hickey on your neck?” – It was a birthmark “When was the last time you did drugs?” “Are you planning on having children soon?” “Can you wear more make-up next time?” “Can you flirt with customers to make them stay longer?” According to Hurst, there was now no excuse for such questions. She said: “Employers, without even realising, can ask seemingly innocent questions and be breaking the law. However, with employment law information so readily available online, there really is no room for insensitive questions or illegal practices.” By Shané Schutte
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