When delivering equality and diversity training I often get delegates to list out ways in which the workforce might be diverse and then to pick out which areas are covered by legislation. Inevitably this leads to the person with ginger-hair moaning that they don’t receive the protection of discrimination law and a comparison with the US where there is ‘aesthetic’ discrimination.
This week I heard of a delegate who has been on a course who found out that there is no protection in law for being overweight. Her colleagues were all calling each other “fattie” after the training in the mistaken belief that this was, therefore, OK.
Firstly, the assertion that there is no protection for the overweight may be wrong if the cause of someone being obese is a disability – a recent case highlighted this.
Secondly, whilst there might not be any protection in harassment/discrimination law, calling someone “fattie” could be ordinary bullying. Quite apart from creating conflict in the workplace, possibly leading to a grievance the employer should still be worried about this because if they are seen to condone the creation of a hostile working environment or to not be tackling the bullying it might breach the implied term of trust and confidence, allowing the employee to claim constructive dismissal.
Next time I do training I will be emphasising this issue to the delegates!