Our expert advice on being unfairly dismissed due to ageism - Paul Doran Law

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Our expert advice on being unfairly dismissed due to ageism

Our expert advice on being unfairly dismissed due to ageismOur expert advice on being unfairly dismissed due to ageism

Have you lost your job because of your age? Or been treated in a humiliating, degrading and offensive way at work? So-called ‘office banter’ is regularly held by Employment Tribunals to be harassment and age discrimination, and you may be able to make a claim against your employer if you are suffering from this.

That’s what happened to Mrs Crompton. Here’s the timeline of key events…

The story

Mrs Crompton started work as an administrator at Eden Private Staff in March 2018, when she was aged 57.

The company provides an introductory service for domestic staff, and in January 2019, Mrs Crompton switched to the role of search consultant for them.

On 6 March, she attended a meeting with two managers as part of her probationary period. They told her she was “enthusiastic and communicated well on the telephone and with the team”, but was “making errors in welcome letters and CVs that she was sending out”.

Almost every week, one manager, Ms Burridge, made ‘jokes’ implying that Mrs Crompton’s poor performance and memory was defective because of her age, with comments such as: “Is it Alzheimer’s again?”. However, Mrs Crompton didn’t make a complaint about these remarks at the time.

In a further meeting on 18 April, the managers reminded Mrs Crompton to check letters and CVs more carefully, and to ensure that the most up-to-date versions were used.

At this meeting, Mrs Crompton said she enjoyed the work but that Ms Burridge’s “anger and impatience” towards her made her uncomfortable so it was difficult for her to ask for help. She added that the thought of entering the office each morning made her “tearful and nervous”.

Mrs Crompton was dismissed on 24 May, due to “inadequate performance during extended probation period”, with a notice period ending on 21 June 2019.

On 3 June, Mrs Crompton was signed off work due to stress and did not return.

What happened next

On 14 June, Mrs Crompton sent the company a grievance letter in which she claimed unfair treatment in connection with age discrimination.

The company asked an external HR consultant to investigate. The consultant phoned Mrs Crompton on 19 June. During this conversation, Mrs Crompton said she thought age “might have been a factor” in the decision to dismiss her.

The consultant spoke to Ms Burridge on 20 June. Ms Burridge admitted making at least one comment about Alzheimers, and added that “everyone” called another colleague “dementia Debbie” as “a bit of a laugh and joke” among colleagues.

The HR consultant submitted an investigation report dated 8 August 2019.

On 13 August, a letter was sent to Mrs Crompton upholding one of her grievances relating to the extension of her probation period. Her other grievances were dismissed.

Making a claim

Mrs Crompton brought claims of harassment and age discrimination to the employment tribunal.

She won her case for direct age discrimination because the remarks would not have been made to a younger search consultant. However, the tribunal ruled that her dismissal was because of her performance and was not connected to her age.

Judge Matthews mentioned that the fact that Mrs Crompton had referred to having a “senior moment” in a communication with a client but that this did not “detract from the fact that it was reasonable for her to find the remarks intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive.”

At the tribunal, Ms Burridge accepted that her comment might have caused offence, and said she was sorry, had received training and moved on.

The tribunal ordered Eden Private Staff to pay Mrs Crompton  compensation in respect of the harassment and direct discrimination together with interest.

What this means to you

Banter is never an excuse for discriminatory comments, and all employers should make clear what constitutes acceptable conversation at work.

Employers must train staff to understand what language is unacceptable in the workplace, such as name-calling.

If a manager or colleague makes derogatory remarks about you, you should raise a formal grievance and keep records of what was said and when.

As the victim, you should be fully supported by management and feel that your complaints have been listened and responded to. The situation should be fully investigated, and disciplinary action taken if necessary. If your employer fails to do this, you could make a discrimination claim against them and win compensation.

Note that age discrimination is the only type of discrimination in which an employer is permitted to provide “objective justification” which can potentially defeat a claim.

If you find yourself the subject of unwanted office banter, no matter what your age, please give us a call for advice. We’ll let you know what to do, and tell you your chances of winning.

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