Case law: MD asking gay employee to keep it secret at work was direct discrimination
Employers should ensure, through appropriate policies, procedures and staff training, that employees are not treated differently because of their sexual orientation (or any other characteristic protected by discrimination law), particularly if it prevents them discussing their private lives with colleagues.
This update was published in Legal Alert - June 2019
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During her first week in a new job, an employee’s managing director asked her to keep secret the fact that she was gay because the owner of the business was ‘old school’. He also said that no other gay people worked in the business.
The employee said that this felt ‘odd and uncomfortable’ and it even made her consider not going to the Christmas party, because being unable to discuss her private life would make her ill at ease. However, she said nothing about it at the time as she was new and was worried it would affect her job if she did.
Seven and a half months into her employment, her employer made her role redundant, along with a number of others. She claimed (among other things) direct discrimination on grounds she had been treated less favourably because of her sexual orientation.
The Employment Tribunal agreed that, despite finding that the managing director was not homophobic in any way, his request amounted to direct discrimination on grounds that a heterosexual employee would not have been asked to keep their orientation secret. It awarded the former employee £8,000 plus interest for injury to feelings.
- Employers should ensure, through appropriate policies, procedures and staff training, that employees are not treated differently because of their sexual orientation (or any other characteristic protected by discrimination law), particularly if it prevents them from discussing their private lives with colleagues.
Case ref: McMahon v Redwood TTM Ltd and Pilling 2405368/2018
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