Although the festivities of New Year's Eve may seem a very short time ago, 2011 is now indisputably well underway. In just over a week we'll be a month through the year and will have had plenty of time to test whether resolutions over increased professionalism and greater productivity can be kept. To put our progress so far in context, Keith Irwin from law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn takes us through the top ten gaffes made last year.

A number of gaffes were made by businesses in their handling of employees in 2010. We highlight some of them, but urge readers not to get too smug – all it takes is one slip.

  1. In making redundant its 42-year old head of marketing, a bank spelled out in a briefing document its plan to recruit a new marketing team leader with a "younger, more entrepreneurial profile (not a headline rainmaker)".
  2. A firm of solicitors wrote a reference for an ex-employee which mentioned her sex discrimination complaint (which it had settled years previously) and "inflexible attitude". Having the last word cost it dear. Her job offer was withdrawn and it was ordered to pay her loss of earnings as a result of this victimisation.
  3. "Who's the daddy?" Office gossip about the possible paternity of an employee's unborn child resulted in compensation for sexual harassment. Following an office Christmas party, the employee discovered that she was pregnant. Within an hour of her bringing her pregnancy to the HR director's attention, the news had done the rounds of the office.
  4. For years the waitresses at Munchkins Restaurant near the British Museum put up with the sexualised atmosphere created by their manager. They were made to wear short skirts and subjected to talk of a sexual nature on an almost daily basis. Even though the women also quizzed the offending manager about his sex life, the tribunal saw this as a "diversionary tactic" and upheld their claims of sexual harassment.
  5. April's Daily Mail reported how a shop manager was sacked by text message, but his lack of a year's service meant that the employer escaped liability.
  6. In contrast, a Dundee barmaid was awarded over £14,000 after being sacked by text message, following an incident where she overslept and missed her shift.
  7. A television company landed in hot water when it made redundant two mothers with young children who job-shared. The two were also the only part-time employees out of a workforce of 180.
  8. One English Council makes it into our list for the sheer scale of the pay differences between male and female employees (some men received bonuses of 160% of basic pay, whereas women received nothing), but also for the revelation that male refuse collectors could take home more than £50,000, compared to women on the same grade who took home less than £12,000.
  9. A 56-year old lady was the preferred candidate for an internal role, but after she revealed her age during the interview, the interviewer at the NHS Trust confessed "I didn't realise you were so old", and the role was given to a 43-year old with 35 years less experience. She was awarded £187,000.
  10. Football managers often face the chop when their team is playing badly, but Blackburn Rovers may have scored an own-goal after Big Sam Allardyce's departure when its owners commented, "We want a younger, more energetic appointment". It remains to be seen whether litigation will result.

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