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Sexist remark or office banter ...?

Sexist remark or office banter?

Rachael Kitchman, Employment Solicitor at Graham & Rosen, looks at the implications of sexist remarks within the workplace following the comments made by Sunderland Manager, David Moyes.

There has been much debate regarding the video which emerged last month of Sunderland Manager, David Moyes, speaking to BBC sports reporter, Vicki Sparks. Following a somewhat difficult question at the end of their on-camera interview Moyes remarked that Sparks “Might get a slap even though [she’s] a woman”. Some feel the comment was inappropriate and sexist while others feel it was harmless banter. Whatever your view, Moyes found himself in troubled water and this highlights the need to choose your words carefully in the workplace to avoid allegations of sexism/sex discrimination.

So what is the legal position?

The Equality Act 2010 provides a list of protective characteristics (to include sex), which cannot not be discriminated against. Sex discrimination takes place when you are treated unfairly because you are a man or woman. It can be direct or indirect and can take the form of victimisation or harassment.

Potential sexist remarks made in the workplace can easily fall foul of sex discrimination laws. Such remarks do not have to be deliberately sexist or offensive and so the perpetrator can be discriminatory without even realising it. It is also worth noting that a complaint of discrimination may even come from an employee who is not at the receiving end of it, they simply have to find the remark offensive.

Employees beware…

Employees need to be aware that they can say the same thing to two different people and receive a different response. If an employee expresses a sexist view or behaves in a way which breaches company policy or offends another colleague, the employee may face disciplinary action and even dismissal. The matter may not end there; the ‘victim’ may take the company and employee to the Employment Tribunal and sue for compensation. Choose your words and audience wisely!

Employers beware…

Employers may be held culpable for their employee’s sexist remarks. In addition to facing a substantial claim for compensation an employer’s reputation may also be tarnished as such cases are particularly appealing to the media. Employers need to create an organisational culture against sexism and harassment- carrying out appropriate staff training and having good anti- discrimination and anti- harassment polices in place can help. Employers should bear in mind that a policy may not have been discriminatory when first introduced but laws and times change and so policies need to be regularly updated. Employers should not underestimate the potential pitfalls in this area and should take appropriate legal advice.

Rachael Kitchman is a Solicitor at Graham & Rosen Solicitors specialising in Employment Law and Litigation.


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