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£63,000 compensation for being called "Gramps"

vehicle depolluting
When it comes to issues such as age discrimination, employers must be aware of the pitfalls.

A male employee who was called “Gramps” by his colleagues for a number of years has been awarded over £63,000 by the Employment Tribunal. Why did this nickname end up costing the employer so much money?

It’s an age thing
The tribunal’s ruling in Dove v Brown & Newirth Ltd 2016 serves as an important reminder to all employers. Mr Dove had been a salesperson and long-serving employee with Brown & Newirth Ltd, a small company that manufactures and sells jewellery. Some years ago the head of sales - who was a good few years younger than Mr Dove - started to call him “Gramps”. This nickname was said to him personally, mentioned in e-mails and used whilst others were present.
Catching on
Eventually, it caught on to such an extent that Mr Dove was always called Gramps by his colleagues. Apparently though, whilst he was quite unhappy about the situation, he did not ever make any complaints or ask people to stop using the nickname. When Mr Dove turned 60 his key sales accounts were transferred to the head of sales. There were also suggestions that some customers had described him as being “old fashioned”, “long in the tooth” and his “traditional approach” was out of step with their business needs.
Amanda Jeffries
Amanda Jefferies, is a specialist employment solicitor and director of Bradley and Jefferies Commercial Solicitors. She advises clients on all aspects of employment law, from drafting contracts of employment and other policies and procedures, to defending all manner of Employment Tribunal claims. She has wide experience of presenting workshops and seminars and is widely regarded as a leading speaker upon employment issues and has spoken at prestigious events such as the ACAS annual conference. You can visit the webite here or call her on 01332 221722.

You’re dismissed
The Company dismissed Mr Dove who, in turn, issued a claim for age discrimination in the tribunal. As well as finding that his dismissal was influenced by customers’ stereotypical views about age (which the employer did not seek to challenge), the tribunal said it was in no doubt that phrases such as “old fashioned” and “long in the tooth” were references to Mr Dove’s age. The nickname “Gramps” also confirmed to the tribunal that ageist attitudes were tolerated in the employer’s workplace.
Sizeable award
The tribunal accepted the Company’s argument that the nickname “Gramps” was not meant to be offensive. However, that argument didn’t prevent its use being deemed discriminatory behaviour on the grounds of age. The tribunal also agreed that Mr Dove had found the continual use of the nickname disrespectful and hurtful, not light workplace banter as the Company suggested. The tribunal awarded Mr Dove £63,391 in compensation for the age discrimination he had suffered.
Not an isolated incident
This ruling is not a one-off - where a nickname is motivated by a “protected characteristic” (as defined under the Equality Act 2010 - others include sex, gender reassignment, being married or in a civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, race, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief), the tribunal will almost certainly find its use to be discriminatory. For example, in previous cases, a wheelchair user who was nicknamed “Ironside” successfully claimed discrimination on grounds of disability and a Polish employee who was repeatedly referred to as “Borat” won his claim for discrimination on grounds of race.
How can you protect your employees and your business?
Do not, under any circumstances, allow nicknames to be used in your workplace that are linked to a protected characteristic (see above). Even if an employee doesn’t seem bothered about a nickname, as this case shows, you could still end up paying them a sizeable amount of compensation.

Age discrimination that arises through the use of nicknames isn’t an issue that only affects older employees. If a younger employee is called a name, say, “Sonny”, “Kid” or “Kiddo” by their colleagues, or if they are referred to as being “wet behind the ears”, they could equally have a potential claim against you.

September 2016

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