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Maddy Christopher

HRZone

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HMRC worker wins harassment claim over unwanted birthday card

An HMRC worker won a harassment case against her employer after being sent a birthday card and over 20 other total allegations of harassment.
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An HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) employee has successfully claimed harassment after receiving an unwanted birthday card, despite previously requesting to be removed from the birthday card list.

The tribunal ruling highlights the need for careful consideration of employees’ wishes and sensitivity in workplace interactions.

The case details

Ms. Toure, a customer service consultant at HMRC since 2019, brought forward over 20 allegations, including race and disability harassment, discrimination, and victimisation.

Her claims detailed a hostile work environment, exacerbated by incidents of inappropriate comments and unwelcome conduct.

One significant incident involved a training session where a colleague pointed to Toure, a French national of African origin, when discussing pronunciation difficulties.

Another instance involved comments about her Nigerian friend and inappropriate filming as she left work. These events contributed to a pattern of harassment, culminating in the unwanted birthday card.

During her sick leave due to stress, Toure requested that only essential correspondence be sent to her via email.

Despite this, her new manager, unaware of her previous request to be removed from the birthday card list, sent her a card.

This act, combined with other incidents, led the tribunal to rule in her favour, citing a “hostile and intimidating environment.”

Implications for HR Professionals

This case underscores the importance of respecting employees’ boundaries and the potential ramifications of seemingly benign actions. HR professionals should take note of the following key points to prevent similar situations:

  1. Document and communicate requests 

Ensure that any employee requests regarding personal matters, such as being removed from social or celebratory lists, are documented and communicated effectively to all relevant parties, including new managers.

  1. Training and awareness

Provide comprehensive training on harassment and discrimination, emphasizing sensitivity towards diverse backgrounds and personal preferences. Regularly update training materials to reflect the latest legal precedents and best practices.

  1. Create clear policies

Develop clear, accessible policies regarding workplace conduct and communication, particularly around personal celebrations and recognitions. Ensure these policies are well-communicated and understood by all employees.

  1. Monitor and address behaviour

Establish mechanisms for monitoring workplace behaviour and promptly address any reports of inappropriate conduct. Encourage an open and supportive environment where employees feel safe to voice concerns.

  1. Support during absences

When employees are on leave, particularly for health-related reasons, limit communication to essential matters and respect their requests regarding contact. Ensure that any communication is necessary and considerate of their situation.

Author Profile Picture
Maddy Christopher

Deputy Editor

Read more from Maddy Christopher