You said “Happy Birthday”. Now I am humiliated.

You said “Happy Birthday”. Now I am humiliated.

It is the right of an employee to be allowed to carry out their duties free from harassment in the workplace. Harassment is the word used in s26 of The Equality Act. It means persistent behaviour that demeans, humiliates or embarrasses a person. So, it means ”bullying” .

Also the Act defines, then prohibits, illegal discrimination. Including discrimination upon grounds of age.

I confess that I find the Act hard to understand in the time I am willing to spend upon reading it. It seems to me to contain a long list of definitions of types of discrimination and of harassment but it less than clear as to what behaviour is prohibited with what consequences in breach.

And look at s30, whatever the consequences of bullying might be, don’t be behaving that way on ships or hovercrafts. Here is -the Link – I’ll let you have a go.

Anyway, let’s assume that brighter minds that mine can unravel the legislation and that workplace harassment is indeed against the law as it obviously should be.

So on to the facts of the Tribunal hearing of Munro -v- Sampson Coward. A secretary in a firm of Solicitors reached her fiftieth birthday and returned from a week off to find that a birthday card had been purchased for her and signed by all of the staff.

She complained to the firm that her birthday was her own private affair and says that the reply was “It was your 50th wasn’t it, you can’t hide it you know”.

The claim of the secretary was in part that the remark was “utterly shocking to her .. insensitive, humiliating and insulting”.

She claimed that the disclosure of her birthdate and of her actual age was a breach of GDPR – a release of her private data to persons not entitled to know it.

Long story short, -here is the link -,  the tribunal dismissed her case.

It found that her reaction was “unusual and extreme” and that the giving of a card was not harassment nor yet discriminatory. Nor, since the Tribunal found that the information as to her birthdate and age came from a disclosure she had made in conversation with one of the other secretaries rather than from her HR file, was there any data breach.

It found that the giving of the reviled birthday card was intended as an “act of kindness”.

You think so, Sherlock?

Any conclusions?

A reading of the case indicates that the Tribunal decided that the lady had been dismissed for rather poor work within the first two-years of her employment. Therefore, before any rights in Law against unfair dismissal had been accrued.

So it seems to have decided that perhaps her claim was instead made on the basis of dismissal for “whistleblowing” about the alleged data breach simply because there is no such time limit applicable for that.

The general tone of internet comment to the idea of finding a birthday card “humiliating” has been robustly derisive.

But. And then again, but.

Over twenty years ago, when a secretary of mine reached fifty, one of my friends rang her in the guise of an undertaker trying to sell her an instalment-plan funeral. Ho ho.

Much longer ago again, when the oldest of my group of teenage friends reached twenty, we all signed an “in memoriam” card with lilies and weeping angels on the front and posted it to his parents, declaring our deepest sympathy in their time of loss of their beloved teenager. Once again, Ho ho. And furthermore, Tee Hee.

How does that look in 2020?

Why do actors, particularly female ones, appear sensitive about their age?

Why was it necessary to bring in Acts of Parliament to protect workers from being required to leave work when they qualify for a pension?

Why does Pizza Express (other restaurants are available) demand your birthdate? It says – in order to confirm you are over 16. Do you believe them? In which case, maybe a box to tick “I am over 16” would do the trick?

[Having said that, if you enter your email address and a random birthdate each time you download a restaurant offer, you may well eventually receive almost weekly emails congratulating you on your birthday and notifying you of a free prosecco or whatever when you visit.]

All data has value – Below is advice to commercial email senders and advertisers from Experian including:-

“Whether the subject line is just a simple “Happy Birthday” or it indicates an offer or a gift … the response metrics are strong. …. Compared to mass-promotion mailings, the total open rates for birthday and anniversary campaigns are 235% and 150% higher respectively.” –Link Here-

If you go to most shops, the “loyalty card” needs your birthdate. See above. They think they can sell you more if they email you on your birthday.

Worse than any of that, see my 2015 Blog. – Link Here- Computer hackers actively look for elderly people to steal from. You’re 40 now, not bothered? Think on- You will get old and the computers in forty years’ time will not have forgotten you or your birthday.

So maybe going forward, we don’t find it so friendly a thing to do to make a note of, and celebrate, a work colleague’s birthday without express permission.

But, it’s a lonely world and a bit of friendliness in a spirit of kindness should surely always be seen as a good deed? You tell me.

As, ironically enough, no-one says any more, O tempora! O mores!

Have you got a Birthday this year? So have I. Here is the music –Link Here-

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