I want to introduce two situations, a senior manager in London castigates two employees in the following terms, the abuse is the last of a long line of verbal abuse along the same lines:
- “Pull your finger out and work harder you lazy Geordie piece of shit”
- “Pull your finger out and work harder you lazy Scottish piece of shit”.
Faced with a situation in which a manager has been abusing a member of their staff for reasons related to their geographical background an employee will frequently want to pursue a complaint of bullying against the manager. But, as many an employee representative will recount even in clear cases of bullying it is not unknown for an employer to refuse to take the employee’s complaints seriously – or even, in some cases, to target the complainant with disciplinary action for raising a complaint.
The aggrieved worker will, naturally enough, want to seek advice as to whether he or she has a legal claim against the abuser and/or the employer. It is true that outside of an Employment Tribunal the workers may both have a claim that the conduct was unlawful under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. A not entirely dissimilar claim can be seen in the House of Lords case Majrowski v. Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Trust where an employer was found liable for the sustained bullying behaviour of a manager.
The reality though, especially for relatively low value claim such as this one, is that the worker is priced out of pursuing such claims.
A more expeditious and cost effective route would be to pursue a case under the harassment provisions of the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act defines harassment as:
A person (A) harasses another (B) if—
(a)A engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and
(b)the conduct has the purpose or effect of—
(i)violating B’s dignity, or
(ii)creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.
The key difference between this definition of harassment and that in the Protection from Harassment Act is that the unwanted conduct must be “related to a relevant protected characteristic” which means that it is related to age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.
Since the definition of the protected characteristic of race includes nationality/national origins the act allows claims related to race where an applicant is English or Scottish (BBC Scotland v Souster ). For the Scottish worker therefore the aggrieved worker does have the opportunity to pursue a claim that the boss is racially harassing the worker. For the worker born and raised in Tyneside however even though the discriminatory and oppressive bullying is just as intense and damaging they will have no recourse in the Employment Tribunal whatsoever.
Given there is evidence that workers who are tied to particular regions of the constituent nations of the UK are disadvantaged because of their regional identification this highlights a major gap in the UK’s anti-discrimination laws. It is all very well for the former Employment Minister Esther McVey to encourage job applicants not to hide their regional accents but if there is no meaningful legal redress to challenge this discrimination then it is hard take such encouragement seriously because, if they do, there is clear evidence that workers will be disadvantaged.
Majrowski v. Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Trust  UKHL 34
BBC Scotland v Souster  IRLR 150