The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and the Employment
Equality (Religious Belief) Regulations 2003 were introduced in December 2003.
The Regulations were enacted to implement provisions of the European Employment
Directive (Council Directive 2000/78/EC) and represent a significant step forward
in tackling discrimination. They apply to all employment and vocational training
and make the following types of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation
or religious belief unlawful:

  • Direct discrimination
  • Indirect discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Victimisation
  • Discrimination after the work relationship has ended

As this is an emerging area of the law, there has been little guidance by
way of case law thus far. However two decisions have recently been decided
in this area.

Rob Whitfield, a manager at a waste management company who was persistently
taunted about his sexual orientation by colleagues and was forced to leave
his job has been awarded £35,345 in compensation for constructive unfair dismissal,
harassment and discrimination.

Mr Whitfield was nicknamed 'Sebastian' by his co-workers after the character
in the TV comedy Little Britain, a political aide who attempts to seduce his
Blair-esque boss. He was also called 'dear', 'queer', 'a queen' and someone
who likes 'poofy drinks and handbags'. The tribunal commented that "the
number of incidents, the repetition and persistence" went far beyond occasional
jokey comments and that the damage constituted "enough verbal blows to
cause a substantial haemorrhage".

The case sends a clear message to employers that bullying of this nature
will not be tolerated. Employers should also note that it is their responsibility
to ensure that managers understand that such references are not acceptable.

Under the Religious Belief Regulations, an employment tribunal has found
in favour of Mr Khan, a bus cleaner from Bradford, and awarded him approximately £20,000
in compensation for unfair dismissal and discrimination. Mr Khan had been dismissed
for gross misconduct as a result of allegations by his employer that he had
used his 25-day holiday entitlement, together with a week of unpaid leave,
to go on an unauthorised trip to Mecca. Mr Kahn maintained that he had permission
to make the trip, which is a requirement of the Muslim faith.

Although there has been some conjecture that this decision may open the floodgates
for similar claims, it is likely that we will have to await further jurisprudence
to assess how the Regulations will be interpreted.

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