Dragon’s Den ‘dragon’ Duncan Bannatyne wrote an article for the Daily Mail on the recent Equality Act 2010 titled: ‘As office jokes are outlawed and everyone made a victim… What on earth made a Tory-led Government enact Labour’s most lunatic legislation?’ and an employment expert – Darren Newman – dared to politely question the accuracy of Bannatyne’s interpretation of employment law on Twitter. This led to a lively exchange of views in which Bannatyne displayed the sort of self-assured arrogance and ignorance you would expect from someone prepared to contribute an article to the Daily Mail. Darren Newman has followed up the debate with a reasoned argument about why Bannatyne was wrong; which Bannatyne refused to read.
He missed reading this:
something about the article really got to me. Not only did it complain about the general thrust and scope of the Equality Act 2010, but it also made some claims about its content that were just wrong. Not hyperbolic. Not controversial. Not glossing over the finer detail. Just wrong.
Pre-Twitter I’d have fumed alone (actually, pre-Twitter I’d never have read the article). However in these ultra-connected days, Mr Bannatyne’s website led me straight to his Twitter account and before I knew it I was pointing out one of his errors in just under 140 characters. I know, I know. I do need to get out more, but it’s not as if it was going to take up much of my time.
The error I focused on (there were several) was his assertion that ‘Employers are also no longer allowed to keep an individual’s pay a secret from other employees’. In the article he complains about the damage that will be done if employers have to tell employees what they are paying others in similar jobs. Of course, the Act does not contain any such provision. Nowhere in the Act does it even suggest that an employer has to disclose anything to employees about how much other employees are paid. Instead, the Act protects employees from victimisation if they either disclose their own pay to others or ask others to disclose their pay to them where the purpose of such disclosure is to discover whether the pay is discriminatory (see s.77 of the Act). The provision is entirely about employees choosing to disclose their own details. It has nothing whatsoever to do with employers making a disclosure.
He also would have missed a conclusion that should be read by the majority of journalists / columnists who wrote about the Equality Act in a similar vein:
The Equality Act 2010 is important. But it is also complicated, and its impact can easily be misunderstood or distorted for political purposes. Many of us – lawyers, HR professionals, and journalists – have spent the past year trying to get to grips with what the Act says and what changes are being introduced. We have put considerable care and effort into this so that we can advise people on just what it means, or where the areas of uncertainty are. Writing well and accurately about the Act is a painstaking process and not at all easy – and I know many colleagues have worked hard to ensure that the advice and information they have given is useful and accurate.
Then along comes Mr B with his contribution to the debate – in which almost everything he says about the Equality Act 2010 is wrong, but expressed with supreme confidence. The article also shows an unmistakeable contempt for the misguided souls who have foisted this pernicious Act on businesses struggling to compete in a global downturn. However, by not allowing his ignorance of the subject to temper in any way the strength of his opinion, he has actually done a disservice to those whose side he claims to be on. It is articles like this which contribute to the climate of fear in which small businesses now approach employment law. Employers think that they can’t make any management decisions without taking legal advice. Employees think that they can receive thousands of pounds in compensation for every perceived slight they endure. Those who peddle these delusions then roundly condemn the laws that actually exist only in their own imaginations.
* Hat tip to @FlipChartFT for tweeting me this story.