In Osborne and another -v- Gondhia and others t/a Rutaba Partnership 2014, two female employees have successfully claimed age and sex-related discrimination after their employer subjected them to unfair criticism.
This case is a timely reminder as to how an employer shouldn’t behave towards employees. The case was brought by two women who are sisters (referred to below as A & B), both had been employed by the Rutaba Patnership at a service station.
Sister A was aged 21 throughout her period of employment whereas Sister B was aged 17 at the start of her period of employment and 18 when it ended. Following unacceptable treatment they had each received, Sister A & B resigned on separate dates and subsequently claimed that their employer had unlawfully discriminated against them on the grounds of age and sex.
Sister A & B both alleged that not only had the owner of the business displayed a generally poor attitude towards them, he had:
- aggressively berated them for incorrectly labelling items – this was actually the mistake of another employee;
- belittled them in front of customers with comments such as “she doesn’t have a clue what she is doing” or “she always forgets to do that”;
- made an inappropriate comment regarding clothing size; and
- lost his temper when a single sheet of paper came loose from a ring binder.
Sister A also alleged that whilst she was mopping the floor the owner had laughed at her, taken the mop to show her how the job should be done, told her she should know how to do this job properly being a girl and that cleaning is women’s work.
The tribunal upheld the claims of age and sex discrimination on the basis that:
- A and B had “not been treated with the respect they deserved as employees”;
- the employer “would not have used the same behaviour with older employees”; and
- negative references were specifically made about their gender.
Apart from the fact that negative references should never be made about gender (or any of the other protected characteristics), this employer made a serious error when it failed to tackle suspected poor performance correctly.
Any concerns about poor performance should be dealt with informally wherever possible. However, that doesn’t mean by making jokes, quips or comments in full view of others. Even if they’re well-intended, they could potentially embarrass an employee.
Instead, in the first instance concerns should be discussed with the employee informally in a private setting. If this doesn’t have the desired effect, formal procedures can then be triggered.