Employment Law, Government & Legislation

The three most dangerous words in the English language

are ‘Health”, ‘and’, ‘safety’.

And even more so because these days there is a correlation between H&S and discrimination laws. After all, when you think about it, health and safety in employment sets out rules for the employer how they must (must!) protect their employees. At its core, the idea behind it is a good one. The employer provides the workplace and has control over it. Hence, they should also be responsible for making it as safe as reasonable possible. After all, we, the employees, have to (must) work there. Right?

The problem is today  most of us are knowledge workers. We work with our brains, we solve problems and put the solution in an email. We don’t work in front of a furnace anymore or shovel coal on a lorry. Which is good, but it has also shifted the focus away from physical injuries to mental injuries. Mental injuries can be all sorts of things and names, but it boils down to stress. Stress, again, can have its causes in too much work, too annoying colleagues, too demanding managers, too much something. And stress can cause depression and depression means everything is too much.

And what, you ask, has that to do with discrimination?

It has, because we live in an age where no one wants to be responsible anymore. Previously, one generation ago, when someone tripped over a stone, he would say:  gosh, I am an idiot. Today, when someone trips over a stone, he says: hey, who put the stone here!?  People blame whatever happens to them on someone else. Have you ever heard someone admitting that his dismissal was also his fault? That he deserved the warning he got? So when someone feels stressed at work these days, its of course not their fault – for not going to bed early, not preparing that meeting on the weekend, not having an honest conversation with the boss, not being honest to themselves and admitting that actually, its not them, its me.

Employers can already be held liable for too much stress in the workplace and from there, it’s just a little step to say: hey, boss, what you ask me to do, that’s discriminatory because it’s against my religion, my faith or culture and if you make me do it, I will suffer stress and depression and become sick. And it’s your fault.

Sounds too far fetched? Have a look at this recent Human Rights Tribunal decision about a worker who was asked to cover her tattoo at a work function, which left her “angry, distressed and humiliated”:


Encouragingly, though, the Tribunal dismissed the claim, which the optimist in me interprets as a sign that the political correctness wave might, just might, be turning.

As a final word on this, across the ditch H&S law have also become more problematic with new legislation now removing the ‘control’ test for the employer and replacing it with a completely new test of ‘influence’. Which no one knows what it means.

Scary indeed.


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