It has recently been reported that the technical director of the British Cycling team told one of its female members to lose weight. The case raises an interesting issue about whether remarks made about an employee's weight are discriminatory.
The first thing to consider is whether the same comment would have made to a man. This is because if the person is critical of the size of both males and females, it would be difficult to then try and argue that this was a form of sex discrimination (because both genders are being treated the same).
Assuming that such comments would only be made to a women, the next issue is to consider what type of discrimination it is. In all likelihood it will be harassment. This is defined as being where A engages in unwanted conduct related to a person's sex that has the purpose or effect of violating B's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B. So, telling your employee or work colleague that they need to lose weight is probably going to fall within this definition given that such a comment is likely to create a humiliating environment and/or violate their dignity.
So, next time you are at work and tempted to make an observation about the size of a colleague's waistline, think twice and avoid potential employment law claims.
Shane Sutton says he will use the Freedom of Information Act to try to get his hands on the findings of the six-month internal investigation which last week found him guilty of using inappropriate and discriminatory remarks towards Jess Varnish. Sutton, who resigned as technical director of British Cycling in April having already been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, denies that he ever told Varnish to “go and have a baby” after she was dropped from the team, although he did admit on Monday telling the 25-year-old that she should “lose some timber”.