How likely are you to get sued for discrimination?* (Part 1)

The media frequently make a big fuss of the so-called compensation culture, and give the impression that it is impossible for employers to make business decisions without running the risk of costly litigation. The fact that we’re still struggling to recover from a crippling recession is often used to further bolster this criticism. But is this risk overplayed?

*Actually I’ll look at how likely you are to get sued in a future blog post. For now, I am going to ask, “Why is the Equality Act getting such bad mainstream PR”? Business lobbyists such as the British Chambers of Commerce have complained that it is ill-timed and will discourage job-creation – but if anything is likely to discourage job creation and lead to mass panic among employers it is the recent spate of misleading anti-Equality Act articles in the right-wing popular press.

Why rights should go out the window is not clear

Why rights should go out the window at a time of economic crisis is not entirely clear – it seems to me that rights are needed most in a time of crisis, at a time when the pressure on employers (and government for that matter) to squeeze the workforce in the interests of competitiveness is at its greatest.

Most would agree (perhaps begrudgingly) that individual rights are important; the reality is that without them we would probably return to the industrial relations climate of the 1960s and early 70s (as well as getting thrown out of the EU). However, the language of popular debate is not focused on rights; it seems some sections of the press cannot mention employment legislation without drawing upon one of two negative stereotypes: the “compensation culture” – conjuring up images of hoards of grasping ne’er-do-wells pocketing undeserved riches – and “red tape” – a term which seeks to characterise all employment law as achieving nothing more than the creation of paperwork and the slowing down of business.

The Equality Act has led to a similar outcry in the press, with business lobbyists such as the British Chambers of Commerce reportedly complaining that it is ill-timed and will discourage job-creation. At this point it’s worth pointing out that, if anything is likely to discourage job creation and lead to mass panic among employers it is the recent spate of misleading anti-Equality Act articles in the right-wing popular press.

I’m never one to miss a good bandwagon

One good example is Duncan Bannatyne’s article in the Daily Mail, not least because he is a well-respected and successful business leader. The article prompted something of an outcry from the twittersphere, kicked off by employment law guru Darren Newman who challenged Bannatyne, first via Twitter, and then via a guest appearance on the XpertHR blog. When invited to respond, Bannatyne was less than enthusiastic, but has since written another article slamming the Equality Act, this time in the Telegraph (prompting yet further trouncing by XpertHR).

Numerous other bloggers have since weighed in with their thoughts –  Flip Chart Fairy Tales, Natural Grump, and Angry Mob (twice!) to mention just a few – and the XpertHR blog itself has been constantly updated as the debate has rumbled on. However, with the exception of a very brief mention in the Guardian Society Daily blog on 8 October, none of the mainstream press seems to have taken an interest in the debate, or in any of the Act’s good points.(** – see Further Rumblings, below)

Why is the Equality Act getting such bad mainstream PR? (A point I raised in my previous blog post about the Today programme). This is not just a battle of ideas among the twittering classes – if the Mail et al’s reductio ad absurdum is actually taken too seriously, then any stifling effect on the economy could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, caused not by the Act itself, but by FEAR of the Act.

(Afterthought: Franklin D Roosevelt had something to say about fear.)

Still, I like a good bandwagon, me.

So just how “dangerous” is equality law?

Unfortunately I’ve digressed so much that I’ve got no time to write this now. But in Part 2 I’ll actually look at some of the statistics on discrimination claims and try and work out roughly what your chances are.

I’m also going to try to demystify just what is (and isn’t) going to make employers more likely to get sued under the Equality Act. Heavens, I may even suggest that by making the law clearer and publishing guidance, the government and EHRC might actually have improved an employer’s chances of getting it right, or of discouraging employees from bringing spurious claims. It might even make some tribunal hearings shorter too, saving legal fees and management time.

But surely these outlandish suggestions would be going too far?

** Further Rumblings (last updated 14.10.10)

This is rumbling on longer than I (or, I suspect, Darren or Duncan) had expected. Further posts below.

Duncan Bannatyne 12.10.10 (NB attempts to “stimulate debate” on his blog are, I am told, proving futile. @MJCarty‘s comment, posted the same day, has not appeared on the blog. He has re-posted it here instead.)

Darren Newman 12.10.10

Guardian Society Daily 12.10.10

Guardian Society Daily 14.10.10

West Consulting – People Matters 14.10.10

(If I’ve missed any, please feel free to let me know!)

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About Mrs Markleham

Employment lawyer, discrimination lawyer, mildly peevish old woman.
This entry was posted in Discrimination, Equality Act, Myths, Press hyperbole. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How likely are you to get sued for discrimination?* (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: How likely are you to get sued for discrimination? (Part 2) | Mrs Markleham

  2. Pingback: The Equality Act and Duncan Bannatyne « in-Company Training

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