UK Employment Lawyer Warns Telling Older Colleague "Back in Your Day" Could Be Age Harassment

UK employment judge rules "back in your day" comment could constitute age harassment, highlighting need for workplace sensitivity to avoid discrimination claims.

Nasiru Eneji Abdulrasheed
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UK Employment Lawyer Warns Telling Older Colleague "Back in Your Day" Could Be Age Harassment

UK Employment Lawyer Warns Telling Older Colleague "Back in Your Day" Could Be Age Harassment

A UK employment judge has ruled that using the phrase back in your day" to an older work colleague could constitute age harassment. The ruling came in the case of Margaret Couperthwaite, a nursing assistant who sued for age harassment after a younger colleague allegedly suggested an operation had been free on the NHS "during your era."

Although Couperthwaite's claim was ultimately dismissed as the tribunal found the comment was never made, the judge concluded that the "barbed and unwelcome" expression highlighted the age gap between the two people and may amount to "unwanted conduct." This means that elderly workers could now successfully sue as the comment is "related to age," with the hearing in Watford saying they would be "likely to accept" the argument in future cases.

Why this matters: The ruling sets a precedent that seemingly innocuous comments referencing an older colleague's age could be grounds for an age discrimination claim in the UK. It highlights the need for heightened sensitivity and caution in workplace interactions to avoid potential legal issues.

The tribunal dismissed Couperthwaite's claims of discriminatory dismissal, disability discrimination, and harassment, but ruled that the "back in your day" comment would have been considered unwanted conduct if it had been made. This follows another recent UK employment tribunal ruling that offering an older colleague a chair at work could be considered age discrimination, as it may be seen as "less favorable treatment."

In that case, a 66-year-old employee felt he was being singled out when his manager offered him a chair, while no one else was offered one. The tribunal stated that the employee could "legitimately conclude that he was being treated differently to others and therefore disadvantageously." However, the tribunal ultimately ruled in favor of the employer, who stated that chairs were routinely offered to staff who might find them beneficial due to health or pregnancy concerns, and not due to the employee's age.

Employment law experts caution that in the current workplace, even seemingly polite gestures could be perceived as age discrimination. They advise employers to be cautious when dealing with older employees to avoid potential legal issues. As one lawyer warned, "The current cases show the importance of training staff not to make any comments related to age, health or other personal characteristics."

Key Takeaways

  • UK judge ruled "back in your day" could be age harassment
  • Tribunal dismissed claim but said comment would be "unwanted conduct"
  • Offering chair to older worker may be seen as age discrimination
  • Employers must be cautious to avoid potential legal issues
  • Training staff on age-related comments is crucial to avoid claims