“Since I turned 60, one of my colleagues has referred to me as ‘grandad’ and has made other comments about my age to suggest I’m not up to the job. It’s really starting to undermine my confidence and I’m worried about losing my job. What can I do about it?”
The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination at work. Making fun of someone because of their age is a form of harassment and if it affects your dignity or creates an environment that is intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive, then your employer must take action to stop it.
First, find out if your organisation has a policy on equal opportunities or diversity that sets out the standards of behaviour it expects all employees to follow. This should explain how to raise a complaint and how your employer will deal with it.
Most policies give you the choice of trying to resolve the problem informally before raising a formal grievance. It is up to you to decide which approach is right for you. In many cases, it is quicker (and less confrontational) to try and sort the issue out informally first. One option is to tell your colleague that you do not find their comments funny and ask them to stop. If you do not want to confront your colleague, you could speak to your line manager or HR to ask for guidance. Keep a record of your conversations.
If this does not resolve the problem, then raise an official grievance. You will need to explain what has happened and what steps you have taken to address it. Include specific examples and dates if possible. Your employer will appoint someone to investigate and, if they agree you have been harassed, it should take steps to stop it from continuing. For example, your colleague may receive a formal warning and be given some additional training.
All employers should implement an equality policy, provide equal opportunities training, review their policies regularly and effectively deal with complaints. If they fail to take these steps, they will be responsible in law for the actions of their staff.
Joanne Moseley is practice development lawyer (employment) – senior associate at Irwin Mitchell