Lesson learned when discrimination proves to be no laughing matter
Published 22 April 2020
Imagine, if you can, having to defend yourself against false claims, finally reacting and then facing a fight to keep your job for doing so.
Anger, injustice, shock, disbelief and frustration are just a few of the emotions you are likely to experience in such a situation. Mechanic Fraser experienced them all.
After months of teasing, taunting and provocation about his sexuality he finally snapped. He had worked for five years in what some may call a ‘laddish’ workplace.
Fraser spent a lot of time and money on his appearance, which included on male grooming products and regular gym workouts. He had a long-term girlfriend with whom he had two children.
Workmates taunted Fraser and joked he was really gay because he cared so much about his appearance. As a result he was given a homophobic nickname by colleagues, which was used on a daily basis.
Fraser brushed it off. That was until a company meeting at which employees were informed that the business was going to start a redundancy selection process.
A colleague shouted out, using the homophobic nickname for Fraser, that the company should let him go because he would have no problem finding alternative work as a male escort.
Colleagues laughed and Fraser had to be physically held back from confronting his workmate.
The meeting was abandoned and Fraser was ordered to the garage manager’s office and suspended from work for threatening behaviour.
Fraser apologised and protested it was unfair. He argued the company had done nothing to protect him from the harassment he had been openly subjected to.
Two days later he received a letter inviting him to attend a disciplinary hearing.
The letter warned that if proven the allegation will be considered gross misconduct and could lead to his dismissal.
Fraser contacted the Castle Associates Employee Support Centre for help.
When he met with our representative Fraser explained the offensive and constant jibes and taunting he had been subjected to about his sexuality and appearance.
He said he had felt hurt and harassed by the actions of colleagues but felt unable to complain because it was considered ‘banter’.
Our representative explained that in the circumstances the treatment was discriminatory and wrong. He discussed submitting a formal grievance with Fraser as it could also have implications for the disciplinary process.
A grievance was submitted. The grounds for it included unfair treatment and harassment related to sexual orientation. An employee can submit a grievance on these grounds if they are not gay, colleagues know they are not, but make comments and jokes saying they are.
In the grievance letter our representative asked for the disciplinary process to be suspended and referred to section 46 of the ACAS Code of Practice to support the request.
The company said it would run the processes concurrently, as it is entitled to do, and it would hear the grievance first.
At the grievance hearing our representative said the nickname given to Fraser was highly offensive. It was highlighted management were aware of it, it was used openly at the redundancy announcement meeting, and in failing to act bosses appear to condone the use of such unsavoury behaviour.
The grievance hearing was provided with extensive details of the harassment Fraser had been subjected to and the impact it had on him.
Prior to the meeting our representative had asked Fraser to compile diary-style notes of incidents, which were presented during the grievance hearing.
The hearing was told Fraser snapped after extreme provocation, regretted his actions and was remorseful.
Our representative suggested that formal disciplinary action was not the way to resolve the issues, especially as Fraser was willing to work with the company to address all matters arising from both the grievance and disciplinary cases.
This was discussed at great length before the meeting was adjourned and the scheduled disciplinary hearing suspended.
The following day Fraser was informed that the disciplinary case against would be dismissed and the issues highlighted addressed informally, as he wished, and with mediation.
Employees were also issued with additional information about equality and diversity and provided with updated information on expected workplace behaviour.
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