variety of fruits

When does workplace banter become something more? 

Under the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (as amended) there are four types of unlawful discrimination: direct, indirect, victimisation and harassment. Employers have statutory duties to those they employ.  

Background

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) recently settled a claim of sectarian harassment for £12,500 without admitting liability.

Since 2013, the Applicant has worked as a plasterer with NIHE in Coleraine. He alleged that, as a Catholic, he was the victim of sectarian harassment in his workplace. Catholics were referred to as “Fenians” and by other “derogatory terms”. 

In July 2018, the Applicant received a text message wishing him a “Happy King Billy’s Day” and his work van was draped with a Union flag. 

He reported the incidents, but nothing happened.

I have experienced sectarian insults, foul language and some very intimidating behaviour. It was an awful time, it was hurtful and it was wrong, and it badly affected my health. 

In April 2019, he lodged a grievance. It was not, however, determined until December 2019. In the meantime, the Applicant went on sick leave due to the impact of his negative working environment. 

Equality Commission

The Equality Commission backed his Tribunal claim.  

Employers have a responsibility to provide and promote a good and harmonious working environment. They should have procedures and policies in place to allow them to deal promptly and seriously with complaints of discrimination or harassment. 

Employees should know how to raise any concerns about harassment and know that their concerns will be taken seriously and it is equally as important that managers are trained accordingly to deal with these concerns. 

Geraldine McGahey, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission

Comment

The statutory duties of employers to employees are well established. It is imperative to develop and nurture a culture of dignity at work. The absence of that culture can result in a workplace of discomfort. This, in turn, may impact productivity. Prevention is better than cure…

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By Paul Sullivan FRSA

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