Case law updates

Investigations must look at the wider picture when harassment and discrimination claims are considered

A Tribunal has awarded a crematorium worker £6,846 in compensation for religious discrimination and harassment after a colleague said white people “wouldn’t want to be buried next to a Muslim”.

It ruled that an investigation into a complaint by the claimant gave no thought to issues of religious harassment or discrimination, focusing solely on whether the offensive remarks were targeted at the claimant, thus failing to recognise “the fact of religious associative discrimination and harassment and the impact of this on the claimant”. While the comments were not aimed at the claimant and were “made generally”, they still met the criteria for harassment and discrimination.

The tribunal heard that A, of mixed heritage and with some Muslim family members Muslim, had started work at Eltham Crematorium in September 2011. In January 2016, a staff meeting was held and attended by the parks and open spaces manager for the Royal Borough of Greenwich. At this meeting A acted as spokesperson for the crematorium staff, setting out concerns that another facility was taking away business and income from the Eltham site. During the course of the meeting the manager – described as angry, “ranting”, and trying to persuade staff the other facility was not a threat – said words to the effect that “the residents of Bromley would not want to be buried next to a Muslim…that’s what the Muslims do, they move in and take over.”

After consulting with her union, A raised a grievance and a council employee was appointed to investigate the grievance. The investigator met with A and also interviewed all those present at the meeting. The grievance was partly upheld, but religious harassment and discrimination were not mentioned. A subsequent appeal was not upheld, on the grounds that the comments were not directed towards the claimant.

However the Tribunal found that A was the victim of religious discrimination and harassment by the council and the manager, and agreed an award for injury to feelings. The Tribunal added that the only evidence of the council’s policies on equal opportunities, harassment and diversity was an equal opportunities policy a page and a half long. Whilst there was evidence that the manager had undergone some training there was no evidence of its content. The Council had not, in the Tribunal’s view, provided “any adequate and accessible definition of or training about discrimination or harassment”.