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Nicknames and Discrimination in the Workplace

An Employment Tribunal has awarded more than £63,000 to a salesperson nicknamed “Gramps” by his colleagues.

The Tribunal found that Mr Dove suffered discrimination in the workplace and was ultimately dismissed because of his age.

Mr Dove was a long-serving salesperson for a jewellery manufacturer before his dismissal at age 60. The Head of Sales referred to Mr Dove as “Gramps”, both in person, in front of others and by email. Mr Dove did not complain about the nickname, and even referred to himself by it on at least one occasion. After customers suggested that Mr Dove was “old fashioned” or “long in the tooth”, some of his accounts were given to the Head of Sales. Mr Dove was then dismissed.

Mr Dove successfully claimed age discrimination in the case of Dove v Brown & Newirth Ltd. The Employment Tribunal determined that Mr Dove’s employer should have investigated his conduct rather than dismiss him based on the discriminatory attitudes of their customers.

The Tribunal also noted that Mr Dove’s “Gramps” nickname highlighted how the employer tolerated ageist attitudes. A Tribunal is likely to look poorly upon a business in which some forms of discrimination are viewed less seriously than others.

Protected Characteristics under the Equality Act 2010

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Pregnancy & Maternity
  • Race
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Religion or Belief
  • Marriage & Civil Partnership

This case shows how important it is to put a stop to employee nicknames whenever they run a risk of being discriminatory. It may be inconceivable that employees could call their colleague “Borat” (with inaccurate regards to their nationality) or “Yoda” (because of their age); yet both of these examples have occurred in real-life.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Employment Tribunals also frequently reject the defence that any offensive remarks were only ‘banter’. The reasons for making a comment do not matter if another person finds the comment to be offensive or degrading.

To ensure your workplace is fair (and legal) you must not allow discrimination of any kind to take place.


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