Employee Misnamed Repeatedly Awarded Over £9K in Race Harassment Claim

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Photo Credits - Markus Spiske via Unsplash

British Indian bathroom salesperson, Viveak Taneja, has been awarded over £9,000 in compensation after winning a race harassment claim. The tribunal heard how Mr Taneja’s manager repeatedly called him by the wrong name, which constituted “unwanted conduct”.

Read on to learn more about the facts of the case and the Employment Tribunal’s ruling. Then, discover the important distinction between mistakes and microaggressions in the workplace. Before you proceed, subscribe to our newsletter now. It only takes a moment and ensures you don’t miss our future employment law updates.

Name Repeatedly Mispronounced in Race Harassment Claim

Viveak Taneja commenced employment with Phoenix Whirlpools in June 2021 as an area sales manager for London. In March 2022, the company hired Dana Davies for the position of sales director. The two arranged to meet on 21 March, agreeing that Mr Taneja would collect Mr Davies from the train station. Although Mr Taneja provided updates on his position, he was late in collecting Mr Davies that morning. This proved a bad start to an unsuccessful relationship and, as described by the sales manager, led to a subsequent “toxic” car journey.

Read: British Indian Who Claims She Was Racially Targeted and Compared to Pocohantas Loses Race Discrimination Case Against Deloitte

During the ride, Mr Davies asked Mr Taneja technical questions for which he was unprepared and required data to respond. Twice, the sales director called Mr Taneja “Vikesh” instead of “Viveak”, which the sales manager corrected on both occasions. The tribunal later heard that Mr Taneja’s name was of particular importance to him due to his culture.

Sales Manager Pursues Race Harassment Claim

Then, the two stopped at McDonalds for coffee, and twice more, Mr Davies referred to Mr Taneja as “Vikesh”. On the second occasion, the sales manager became upset. He told the sales director that he hadn’t listened to his corrections previously and that if Mr Davies could not make an effort to get his name right, he would make no effort in return.

Consequently, Mr Taneja asked Mr Davies to remove his cases from the car and drove away, leaving the sales director at McDonalds. They both subsequently sent their accounts of the events to the chief operating officer at Phoenix Whirlpools, and Mr Taneja was dismissed later that day without further investigation.

Following this, the sales manager brought a race harassment claim against the employer. He also pursued claims of unfair dismissal and discrimination on the grounds of race.

Employment Tribunal Rules in Sales Manager’s Favour

Judge Cowen heard Viveak Taneja’s claims in Watford. The tribunal held that it had no jurisdiction to consider Mr Taneja’s claim for unfair dismissal as he didn’t have the requisite two years of continuous employment with Phoenix Whirlpools. Moreover, it ruled that Mr Davies’ management style meant he had not discriminated against Mr Taneja because of his race.

However, the tribunal upheld Mr Taneja’s race harassment claim. By repeatedly misnaming Mr Taneja, the tribunal ruled Mr Davies’ behaviour constituted unwanted conduct that violated the sales manager’s dignity and created an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive” atmosphere. They did note that Mr Davies’ dyslexia made the pronunciation of names more difficult but understood that he hadn’t explained this or apologised to Mr Taneja.

Judge Cowen stated that Mr Davies had “acted in a manner which was arrogant and lacked respect towards [Mr Taneja] to acknowledge his name, or take any time or effort to correct himself or to recognise his inappropriate behaviour.” As such, Mr Taneja was awarded £9,329.23 for injury to feelings plus interest.

This case highlighted some important points to note for race harassment claims. It is clear from the tribunal’s findings that behaviour need not be intentional to constitute racial harassment. This concept is likely to hold true for any type of harassment, not only those linked to race. Showing respect to everyone, irrespective of their characteristics, beliefs, or values, is crucial to maintaining a positive workplace culture.

Mistake vs Microaggression.

Whilst anyone can make a mistake, it is important to distinguish between genuine mistakes and instances of microaggression. Michelle Bogan, founder and CEO of Equity at Work, defines microaggressions as “small, off-the-cuff comments that reflect assumptions about people based on some element of their identity”. Whilst such behaviour may not appear “serious”, the effects of microaggressions can prove significant and have been likened to “death by a thousand papercuts”. At their core, microaggressions indicate disrespect and inequality, and their impact reflects this.

Read: Allyship in the Outdoors: I Took The North Face’s Racial Inclusion Course and Here’s How It Went

In Viveak Taneja’s race harassment claim, repeatedly getting his name wrong constituted a microaggression. However, microaggressions can relate to any aspect of a person, including their gender, age, appearance, and disability (to name but a few). Importantly, what might constitute a microaggression also depends on several factors, such as person, circumstance, relationship, tone of delivery, history, and context.

Photo Credits – Lesly Juarez via Unsplash

One main problem with mistake vs microaggression is that people will often not address the issue directly. Given the “micro” nature of such comments, the recipient will frequently not mention how it has made them feel for fear of being seen as overreacting. Similarly, a speaker may not realise the effect a comment has had or, having realised it, not want to face the awkwardness of addressing it. However, it is important to be open and honest when dealing with microaggressions in the workplace. Fostering an inclusive and respectful work environment makes for a happier, healthier workforce.

Get Employment Law Help

If you think you may have a race harassment claim, Redmans Solicitors can help. Contact our team of friendly employment specialists today to find out how they may be able to assist you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter now! We publish daily updates from the employment law sector, and you won’t want to miss what’s coming.

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