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My New Year’s Resolutions

January 12, 2024

Almost 20 years’ ago, I gifted my boss a “Baldie Buffer” in the Secret Santa.

The following year, I gave him a bottle of Mr Sheen polish for his mighty bonce.

A lot has changed in the past 20 years. In fact, nowadays, that type of conduct could result in a claim of harassment being made against me and my employer. (HR practitioners will no doubt recall the British Bung Manufacturing case in 2022, where a tribunal found that calling an employee “bald” amounted to sex-related harassment)

I was interested to note that, last year, a police force in England issued some “Inclusive Language Guidance” which gave police officers some tips as to how they should be talking about and describing people in a way that is inclusive and respectful.

Some of the tips were obvious – like, avoid using the words “cleaning lady” (“cleaner” was preferable) and “spokesman” (“spokesperson” was preferable).

But some tips were less obvious – like, try to avoid referring to “Christian name” and “individuals suffering from anxiety” (“first name” and “people suffering from a mental health condition” were preferred).

In the fast-paced world of emails, DMs and Whatsapps, we are often consulted by individuals who believe that they have been subject to harassment – that is, unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.

And a lot of these allegations are based on clumsily-worded phrases or, like my earlier Christmas example, misguided gifts.

Employers should remember that a one-off incident can amount to harassment. And that, unlike other types of discrimination, there is no requirement to identify a comparator (i.e. someone who does not share the same protected characteristic and is treated differently).

But, having pondered the Inclusive Language Guidance which was published late last year, I have set myself some New Year’s Resolutions.

These include:

– I will change my morning greeting from “Hi guys” (sexist) to “Morning folks”.
– I will stop telling stories about the latest “crazy” antics of my dog (disability-related) and instead talk about my hound’s “outrageous” behaviour.
– I will not refer to Mrs Allison as my long “suffering” wife (ableist) – let’s face it, she is “extremely patient”.

And, for the avoidance of doubt, I have not taken part in an office Secret Santa in over ten years.

And the colleague for whom I gifted these presents all these years ago, wrote in my 20-year anniversary card, “Congratulations – you’ve been an excellent colleague with lots of fun, mischief and support”.

(Fortunately, any claim for that ill-advised Secret Santa gift is clearly time-barred….)

If you have any questions about this, or any other Employment law issue, then please get in touch with the Blackadders Employment team with offices throughout Scotland.

The opinions expressed in this site are of the author(s) only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Blackadders LLP.

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