Ever wondered where 'the line' is in workplace conversations?

The truth is, it is often better to be safe than sorry, because where the line is not always very clear.

Take these couple of cases as examples:

Growcott v Home Office NIFET/85/09

A manager’s joke about the claimant’s age that was quite likely to have been acceptable during a friendly conversation was viewed very differently by the tribunal due to the fact that it was made during a recruitment process.  

Growcott was shortlisted for an interview for the procurement post. He was asked to acknowledge and confirm his attendance at interview by email to McCormick, who replied one minute later with an email that simply stated: “U r to [sic] old.”

Growcott did not get the job, and he claimed that he did not get it due to his age.

The court agreed and awarded Growcott £1,500 in damages.

Davies v Remploy Ltd ET/2407487/09

Ironside” nickname for wheelchair user was harassment.

Mr Davies had mobility problems and is a wheelchair user. On 4 March 2009, the a grievance was received that a factory manager at the company’s Burnley site had made insulting and offensive comments about Mr Davies’ disability. 

The grievance alleged that the factory manager, Mr Wellens had, on several occasions, in Mr Davies’ absence referred to him as “Ironside”. 

This was in reference to a popular television series called “Ironside”, about a former police detective of the same name, who used a wheelchair after a sniper’s bullet paralysed him from the waist down. 

Mr Davies was offended by Mr Wellens’ alleged comments, and later gave evidence that when he was young he felt bullied when people had called him “Ironside”. 

The tribunal held that Mr Wellen's conduct had the effect of violating Davies' dignity and it awarded him £6,000 in compensation for injury to feelings.

Conclusion

Simply put: Watch yourself. Don't wreck yourself.