“When you walk into a disco, and they offer you a seat, you’re the oldest swinger in town”, as folk singer Fred Wedlock observed many years ago. But what about when you walk into the workplace? Are you the latest victim of age discrimination
One of the complaints brought by 66 year old Filipe Edreira in his tribunal claim against Severn Waste Services was that when he was moved to a different working area, a colleague asked him if he wanted to sit down during his 10 hour shift. The norm was to carry out duties standing up. There was nothing unpleasant or rude about the offer. However, Mr Edreira sensed it was part of an agenda to make him leave, despite his 17 years’ service. He issued proceedings, comprising five complaints of direct age discrimination and an associated claim for age related harassment
Following a 4 day trial, the tribunal dismissed all of the claims. The observation that attracted media interest focused upon how unusual it was, at this workplace, for any employee to be offered a chair: “in our judgment, the Claimant could legitimately conclude that he was being treated differently to others and therefore disadvantageously.” Having thereby explained the law, the tribunal went on to find that the offer of seated duties on this occasion was not because of age, but because of underlying health conditions. The burden of disproving discrimination therefore did not shift to the company. 
Could this expensive process have been avoided? Whether Mr Edreira raised the sitting down issue as a grievance at the time, or resurrected it from long forgotten status to add to his list of tribunal complaints, is unclear. No employer can ever be safe from the latter. Had Mr Edreira’s manager added a health related explanation to his offer, this might have reduced the risk of a future complaint. Then again, it might not have done so. We may be left to conclude that the Equality Act works in mysterious ways. 
Are you looking to bring in a workplace change that might trigger complaints? Or have you already have one or more? You may need guidance on how best to handle them. Contact David Cooper on 0121 325 5402 or via dmc@coxcooper.co.uk . 
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