Work gossip can be a way of bonding, it can be done for sheer enjoyment, to have something to snicker about after an office Christmas party. But gossip can sometimes also become harassment.
In a recent case, Nixon vs Ross Coates, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled in favour of Ms Nixon who had alleged that gossip about her pregnancy was sex and pregnancy discrimination and harassment against her and had led to her constructive dismissal.
Ms Nixon was working at Ross Coates Solicitors in Ipswich. In December 2007, she went along to a Christmas party organised by Mr Coates. In the party, she was seen kissing and going into a hotel room with another employee of the firm.
Soon after, Ms Nixon informed the managing partner of the firm about her pregnancy. The HR manager disclosed news of her pregnancy to other employees and allegedly gossiped and spread rumours about her pregnancy and the paternity of the baby.
Since the situation became distressing for Ms Nixon, she asked to be transferred to a different office but was refused. She resigned and brought in a claim of constructive dismissal and sex and pregnancy discrimination and harassment.
At first, the Employment Tribunal upheld her claim of constructive dismissal but not sex and pregnancy discrimination and harassment. The Tribunal also reduced her compensation by 90% arguing that she had acted in a foolish and irresponsible manner.
Ms Nixon then appealed to the Employment Tribunal which upheld the case of constructive dismissal and also ruled that Ms Nixon had faced sex and pregnancy discrimination and harassment. It also said that it was not Ms Nixon’s conduct but the gossip that had led to her constructive dismissal and awarded her full compensation.
The case highlights the importance of realising where you are stepping the lines; gossip that creates an unfavourable or distressing atmosphere for a colleague or an employee can be seen by law as discrimination and harassment. It also demonstrates the key role the employer can play in mitigating the situation when its employees or third parties are involved in harassment of another employee.
To find out more about the Equality Act 2010 and sex and pregnancy discrimination and harassment, please visit the Equality Act 2010 page on the LSE Equality and Diversity website.