Umbrage by proxy

Britain’s grandiosely-named “Equality Act” has scores of provisions, some probably dumber than this:

It creates the controversial legal concept of “third party harassment”, under which workers will be able to sue over jokes and banter they find offensive — even if the comments are aimed at someone else and they weren’t there at the time the comments were made.

They can sue if they feel the comments “violate their dignity” or create an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.

Home Secretary Theresa May, Her Majesty’s Government’s enforcer, maintains:

“In these challenging economic times it’s more important than ever for employers to make the most of all the talent available. When a company reflects the society it serves, it’s better for the employer, the employees and the customers.”

Have you seen British society lately, Madame Secretary? What in it, exactly, is worth reflecting? Certainly not this effort to blow secondhand smoke up the kingdom’s ass.

This being from the Daily Mail, however, it seemed reasonable to seek out a second source, and the Beeb sums up several of the Act’s provisions, including the one under discussion:

“Can I now be held liable for harassment of an employee by the third party, such as a customer?”

Yes, but only “if you have failed to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent the harassment occurring,” explains [Matthew Tom, employment partner at Candey LLP].

He says that a “three strikes” rule applies, so you can’t be liable unless you know the employee has experienced third party harassment on at least two prior occasions, although not necessarily from the same source.

Jeebus. To insulate our customer-service personnel from the rudeness of customers, we’d have to disconnect the phones entirely, shut down the email server, and conduct everything via legal counsel. Not practical in a retail-services context. Customers, of course, are protected by (1) the fact that we’re supposed to stick to the script and (2) the fact that I don’t take their calls.

Still, the Law of Unintended Consequences suggests that the upshot of all this, rather than the “death of the office joke” as predicted by the Mail, will be the elevation of the thin-skinned to protected-class status. Barack Obama, whose depth is measured in nanometers, would probably like this just fine.

(Via Fark.)


  1. unimpressed »

    2 October 2010 · 7:00 pm

    So, saying “What a pain in the ass.” about an individual would become something prosecutable?

    What a pain in the ass!

  2. KingShamus »

    3 October 2010 · 5:51 am

    Ya know what will make it really hard for businesses to function at all?

    This stupid law.

    Way to go, limeys.

  3. Gallomimia »

    3 October 2010 · 1:15 pm

    We should also dress in pure grey outfits, outlaw laughter entirely, and move in silent lineups to where we need to go. We should work 19h every day, have no television, radio, or newspapers, and be granted access only to information which can aid us in our job. Exercise periods will be mandatory and in unison, and human pair-bonding will be selected based on genetic matches only.

  4. fillyjonk »

    3 October 2010 · 3:48 pm

    I want the duct-tape commission for over there. I think the perfect protest of this would be for workers to walk around with duct tape over their mouths, so they do not inadvertently offend anyone.

    I suppose I’d have to invent some kind of special gentle-adhesive, non-beard-hair-removing duct tape for the gents….

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