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Joking Apart?

The anti-discrimination legislation has been with us for around 35 years. And with the introduction of the new Equality Act just around the corner one would think that risqué comments are a thing of the past for fear of litigation against the individual or the company. But it appears not.

Some people like to live dangerously and it is alleged that mocking comments have been made by MPs about the working partnership between Nick Clegg and David Cameron as something reminiscent of the gay relationship between two cowboys in the Oscar winning film Brokeback Mountain.

We’re not always a very respectful bunch in this country or bizarrely we often give disproportionate respect to the wrong things (some material there for Ali G to work on).

David Davies, who is said to have made the remark about the Brokeback Coalition during a private lunch, apparently attributing it to Lord Ashcroft, says that he has been misheard. Unfortunately this sort of banter, whether intentional or not, can create problems for employers and we have to manage it.

For example, in one case an Employment Tribunal decided that the employer referring to one of his employees as a “chutney ferret” had violated the employee’s dignity and this constituted harassment on account of sexual orientation. It’s no defence to say “I didn’t mean any harm – I was just having a laugh!” Like Queen Victoria before it, the ET will not be amused. So what do you do?

  1. Take concerns seriously
  2. Investigate and deal with complaints of harassment promptly
  3. Discipline where appropriate
  4. Make sure you have up-to-date, relevant equal opportunities and dignity at work policies
  5. Provide employment law training for your employees on the policies. Often people don’t realise that they were doing anything wrong

It can also be helpful to provide a confidential counselling service, though this of itself is not enough to discharge your responsibilities.

If you have any queries call us.

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