Even risque is risky

14th March 2008 at 00:00
Not that you would, but if you did hang in the staffroom or office a calendar that contained pictures of semi-nude models - even the famous Calendar Girls (right) - or left a confiscated risque magazine where others could see it, it could spell trouble.

Following a case in the employment appeal tribunal any calendar deemed by the tribunal to be pornographic may give an offended employee the right to claim sex discrimination, even, it seems, if the employee did not complain about it at the time.

Three other employees downloaded images from the internet on three separate occasions in the same room as the plaintiff. She did not complain to her employer until her job was threatened for reasons which had nothing to do with the offensive pictures. She sued the employers and won.

The tribunal ruled that even though she had not taken offence at the time the downloaded images had the potential effect of offending a female employee. Whether or not she complained at the time was irrelevant.

The decision might be different if the employee had been actively involved, or had obviously enjoyed the pictures - though how you determine whether someone is enjoying a saucy calendar is open to debate. The point is that, innocent and tasteful though pictures of nudes might be, it is now risky for any employer to allow them to be seen by others. If any woman (or man) is offended then they could sue for damages on the ground of sex discrimination.

At the moment an employee who wished to complain would have to go through the school's grievance process before going to the courts. The perpetrators of the deed could face disciplinary action. Schools should make clear to all that care needs to be taken not to introduce even mildly offensive material, whether on paper or electronically.

Chris Lowe, Former head and trade union legal adviser.

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