Irish Daily Mail

Let’s get real. It’s time to kill this cult of the hyper sensitive

- by Jenni Murray

SHOULD you be unfortunat­e enough to find you’re being paid half as much as a male colleague doing exactly the same type and amount of work as you, then you have a perfect right to be furious and take your employer to court on the grounds of grossly unequal pay.

If, as happened frequently to the younger me in the early stages of my career, some bloke creeps up behind you by the filing cabinets and thinks it’s OK to encircle you with his wandering hands and grasp your breasts, again, you are completely justified in making a claim of sexual harassment and taking him to court.

Regrettabl­y, in my day, it wasn’t an option.

My only choice was to slap his face, and mention how well I knew his wife and would have no worries about informing her of his behaviour.

There has obviously been a great deal of progress in the way the law now redresses serious breaches of equality in the workplace.

Is it always worth getting outraged, hurt and insulted at every slight that might slip out in the office?

Definitely not, as was made clear by the judge in the case of Nirosha Sithirapat­hy, a 31-yearold former employee of science and engineerin­g firm Psi Cro UK.

Ms Sithirapat­hy claimed harassment when her boss, Martin Schmidt, offered her a job, with a yearly salary of almost €100,000, in their parent firm’s offices in Switzerlan­d. She turned it down.

HE ASKED why, saying, ‘You’re not married, you don’t have children and you do not have a boyfriend.’ He also mentioned that the Swiss branch was tolerant of lesbians.

In his defence, he said he would have made similar comments to a young man if they had turned down such an opportunit­y.

As the tribunal panel acknowledg­ed, Mr Schmidt’s comments were ‘clumsily put’, but did not warrant 42 claims ranging from discrimina­tion, sexual harassment, harassment relating to age and/or sexual orientatio­n, and victimisat­ion.

Judge Emma Jane Hawksworth agreed and the claims were dismissed. ‘The comments were unfortunat­e and awkward,’ she said.

‘However, we bear in mind the importance of not encouragin­g a culture of hypersensi­tivity or of imposing legal liability to every unfortunat­e phrase.’

What a relief that, at last, a judge has been courageous enough to apply common sense to a growing problem in these hypersensi­tive times, when everyone is terrified of making a joke, offering an opinion or just saying something that is now no longer acceptable.

Being old is no excuse. You have to keep up with these things for fear of being ostracised in the workplace.

My generation of women went through all this some years ago, arguing for Ms to be employed rather than Miss or Mrs, as we didn’t want to be defined by our marital status.

We insisted a grown woman should never be called a girl, ‘working mother’ was a misnomer as all mothers work, and not necessaril­y outside the home — a preferable term was ‘mother who goes out to work’ — and ‘foetus’ was the acceptable term for ‘unborn child’.

We made our point, hoped we’d be taken seriously and sometimes were, but we would never have wasted a court’s time, argued we’d endured a hate crime or claimed a colleague should be ‘cancelled’ for having made a simple mistake in their use of language.

They were, as I recall, ‘kinder’ times.

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