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Employer Discriminated Against Employee by Asking her to Keep her Sexuality a Secret

An employer was found to have directly discriminated against an employee because of her sexual orientation when the Managing Director asked her not to disclose to the wider business that she was gay. Whilst the tribunal found that the Managing Director was in no way homophobic, the request was still discriminatory.

The case of McMahon v Redwood TTM Ltd and Pilling highlights the importance of ensuring that employees of all levels of the organisation are aware of what discrimination is in order to prevent it from occurring. The employee in this case was awarded £8,000 for injury to feelings.

The Facts of the Case

Shortly after starting employment the employee was asked by the Managing Director not to disclose her sexual orientation because the owner of the company was ‘old school’ and there were no other gay employees. The employee complied with this request as she feared the possible repercussions, but it made her feel uncomfortable, particularly that she couldn’t talk about aspects of her personal life at work related social events.

After less than a year at the company, the employee was made redundant along with others. She complained to the employment tribunal that the request not to reveal her sexuality was direct discrimination. The tribunal found that the request had been made and agreed that it was discriminatory; it was found that a heterosexual employee would not have been treated in the same way.

Advice

It’s important to be aware that employees are protected from discrimination irrespective of their length of service. To reduce the risk of discrimination occurring it’s advisable for employers to:

  • Give employees at all levels of the organisation appropriate discrimination and harassment training and periodic refreshers where necessary, keeping records of the training provided;
  • Ensure new starters are taken through the organisations equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies as part of their induction and that you can evidence this has been done;
  • Ensure all managers and directors lead by example and promote the importance of treating everyone in the workplace with dignity and respect.

If an employee raises a complaint that they have been discriminated against or harassed it’s important that this is dealt with promptly, sensitively and appropriately. As this will usually involve addressing the matter as a grievance and can lead to disciplinary action being taken against the discriminators/harassers, you should seek advice on the facts of your case before acting.

If you have an employment law matter you would like assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd as we are happy to help.