Victims of workplace harassment sadly often fear the consequences of rocking the boat, but there are very good reasons why they should consult a solicitor straight away. The point was made by the case of an administrative assistant who took action after a colleague denigrated her Chinese heritage.
After she mentioned her grandmother’s Chinese descent in the office, her colleague responded with the words: ‘Does she own a chip shop? All Chinese own chip shops.’ She was embarrassed, upset and offended by the remark. She resigned some months later and launched Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings.
Her employer at the time accepted that the colleague’s derogatory comment was an act of harassment that was related to race. It argued, however, that all reasonable steps had been taken to prevent him from making such remarks. It asserted that all its staff were required to undergo equality and diversity training, together with refresher courses.
Ruling on the matter, the ET noted that there was no evidence that the colleague in fact underwent such training. His tendency to make inappropriate comments was known to his line manager. Although she would intervene if she thought he was about to say something offensive, it should have been apparent to her that he had not taken on board any equality and diversity training he had received and did not appreciate the effect of his remarks on others.
The ET was satisfied that the employer’s equality and diversity policies had not been enforced sufficiently robustly in relation to the colleague. It would have been reasonably practicable for the employer to ask him to do the training, or to do it again, and to have told him in terms to stop making inappropriate comments.
The woman’s claims of constructive unfair dismissal, direct discrimination, victimisation and further allegations of harassment did not succeed. However, in relation to the colleague’s remark and its effect on her, she was awarded £8,500 for injury to her feelings. With interest, her total award came to £9,491.