The recent case of Nixon v Ross Coates Solicitors and anor illustrates the dangers of office gossip, particularly where this concerns the pregnancy of an employee. The claimant in this the case was employed for over ten years by the respondent to bring in clients and assist with corporate hospitality. She was having a relationship with one of the firm’s solicitors, but at the Christmas party publicly kissed another employee, the IT Manager and was known to have spent the night with him. She subsequently informed the firm’s Managing Director that she was pregnant. Following this the HR Manager found out and began gossiping about who might be the child’s father. The claimant found the gossip distressing and filed a grievance and asked to be relocated to another office in the meantime. The firm refused to allow her to relocate and after her absence from work refused to pay her wages. The claimant then brought claims for constructive unfair dismissal, sex discrimination and sexual harassment.
The ET upheld the claimant’s claim for contructive unfair dismissal but rejected her discrimination and harassment claims. Extraordinarily, it also indicated that her damages for contructive dismissal should be reduced to reflect her conduct at the Christmas party.
However, the EAT upheld all three of the claimant’s claims and furthermore rejected the ET’s reasoning concerning the reduction of the claimant’s potential damages for contructive dismissal, stating that it had iallowed its own view about the claimant’s conduct affect its judgment.
The case confirms that irrespective of any employee’s own conduct, any gossip which ensues cannot be justified and must be dealt with effectively by employers.