Avoiding Hypersensitive Tribunal Claims

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The Employment Tribunal claim of Ms Sithirapathy v PSI CRO UK Ltd & Others has been in the press last week after an Employment Tribunal decided to reject a claim for harassment on the grounds that it was important to not, “encourage a culture of hyper-sensitivity.”

What are the facts of the Employment Tribunal involving Ms Sithirapathy?

The Claimant worked as an in-house lawyer for PSI CRO UK (“the Company”) an international pharmaceutical company based in the UK. The Claimant agreed to transfer to the company’s office in Switzerland in 2017. However, one month after joining, the Company restructured and she lost her job.

The Claimant enquired about a new role in the Company’s Switzerland head office. When offered the role, the Claimant confirmed to her manager that she would like to take some time to consider the job offer due to ‘personal reasons’.

The manager asked the Claimant what her personal reasons were, stating: “You are not married, you don’t have children and you do not have a boyfriend.”

In addition, the Claimant also alleged that the manager made another inappropriate comment in relation to her perceived sexual orientation, after he stated that the Switzerland office had ‘tolerance’ for a lesbian member of staff.

The Claimant also alleged that the manager had made a discriminatory comment about her age, stating: “Your age will prevent you from commanding a higher salary.”

The Claimant told the Tribunal that she felt: “humiliated, upset and angry” about the comments her colleagues made towards her.

What was the outcome of this Employment Tribunal case?

The Employment Tribunal decided that the comments made by the managers were unwanted and had the effect of creating a humiliating environment for the Claimant. However, whilst the Tribunal found the comments to have been, “very blunt and clumsily put,” the panel decided that they did not amount to harassment placing particular weight on, “the importance of not encouraging a culture of hyper-sensitivity or imposing legal liability to every unfortunate phrase.”

How will future claims be affected by this case?

The judgement of this case does not set a legal precedent, and will not be binding on other Tribunals, which may well have reached a different decision. However, the decision suggests that many Tribunals will set a high-hurdle for establishing that unwanted comments amount to harassment.

What can employers do to prevent employees bringing claims, such as those filed by Ms Sithirapathy?

Bethan Rosson, Employment Solicitor at Cartwright King, considers: “Employers should consider this case a warning when implementing internal training to staff. It’s paramount that all employees are made aware that they need to communicate in a professional and appropriate way at all times.

“Employers will need to ensure their internal policies, such as equal opportunities and bullying and harassment, are clear and kept up-to-date with UK legislation. Regular training should be implemented to uphold a positive and respectful work culture that all employees will need to comply with.”

How can Cartwright King help with any employment issues?

Cartwright King’s Employment Law specialists support fairness and best practice in the workplace. They provide impartial and practical advice that aims to resolve any disagreements quickly, whilst preventing drawn-out or potentially negative disputes.
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All advice is correct at time of publication.