Female (or male) bankers who suffer discrimination at the hands of clients can now take banks to court.
Under regulations introduced this week, employers are liable for discrimination meted out to their staff by customers. Clients who regularly subject female bankers to amorous overtures after a night on the town could suddenly prove a costly indulgence.
“Banks may now be liable for client behaviour,” confirms Gareth Brahams, an employment partner at law firm Lewis Silkin. “However, there are considerable hurdles to jump before any claim can be brought.”
For claims to be valid, Brahams says claimants will need to prove they’ve been subjected to at least two previous incidents of harassment by a client (although there’s no need for it to be the same client) and employers will only be liable if they’re unable to show that they’ve done ‘everything reasonably practicable’ to prevent the harassment/discrimination from taking place.
Fraser Younson, a partner in the employment practice of law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, says the new laws revive an original ruling which related to Bernard Manning (two Afro-Caribbean waitresses brought a discrimination case against a hotel after Manning – a Northern comedian and customer – insulted them), but which was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal.
“This is reinstating the principle that employers mustn’t put employees into an environment where they can be harassed,” says Younson.
Whether female bankers will avail themselves of their new rights is another question.
“You tend to be a lot more tolerant towards clients than colleagues,” says one. “The relationship between clients is much more formal anyway, so harassment is unlikely, but if it happens, you’d need to think very, very carefully before raising it as an issue – do you really want to ruin a client relationship?”