Angry comments uttered in a moment of workplace stress can very easily amount to harassment and land employers in legal hot water. That was certainly so in the case of a frustrated control room operator’s response to a Muslim worker’s reluctance to cover a shift during the Islamic festival of Eid.
The operator, who worked for a security company, was under strain due to a staff shortage arising from the festival and was anxious to find a guard to cover a day shift. He contacted the worker, who informed him that he could not start work until after 11am because he wanted to go to a mosque to pray.
Frustrated at that response, he retorted, “Do all Muslims have to go to prayers?” The worker was upset by that comment, viewing it as a derogatory statement concerning his faith. Following a testy exchange of texts, the operator apologised, explaining that he was under extreme pressure. The worker raised a formal grievance which was subsequently rejected.
After he launched proceedings against his employer, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that the operator’s words amounted to harassment related to the worker’s religion, contrary to Section 26 of the Equality Act 2010. The comment had been made in an angry and threatening manner, rather than in a spirit of open-minded enquiry.
The worker described the operator’s words as ‘crossing all the boundaries by hitting at my religion’ and he reasonably viewed them as unacceptable. The comment was particularly unwanted because it was made during Eid and created an intimidating, hostile, humiliating and offensive environment for the worker.
His other complaints against the employer were rejected, either on their merits or because they had been lodged outside statutory time limits. The amount of compensation due to him in respect of the single incident of harassment found proved would be assessed at a further hearing, if not agreed.