Duncan Bannatyne now wrong about the Equality Act in the Telegraph

Duncan Bannatyne wrote a piece of ill-informed outrage over the new Equality Act for the Daily Mail which was taken apart superbly by Darren Newman, an employment expert. Whenever you are knowledgeable about a certain subject you suffer the misfortune of knowing how terribly poor the media coverage is of that subject – and I’m sure it must be frustrating for Darren that newspapers would rather turn to celebrity businessmen than a real expert just because that businessman happens to parrot the media narrative. Duncan Bannatyne has now been offered some space in the Telegraph in which to demonstrate his knack for tabloid-friendly soundbites backed-up with very little substance.

Thankfully Darren has taken the time to blog about some of the problems – bit-by-bit – over on his blog and it makes enlightening reading. I heartily recommend you go and read it, not just because it corrects Bannatyne, but because it is about much more than one person’s ignorance. His post covers media coverage in general because, after all, it is the media that seeks out ‘experts’ that fit their agenda and it is this process that essentially censors the truth from the reader. The conclusion of the blog post is extremely timely and important:

I feel slightly guilty to be focussing so much ire on Duncan Bannatyne. Really he’s a symptom, not the disease. The standard of debate around equality law in the mainstream media is dreadful. Almost nothing I read is a fair summary of the law and what employers need to know. Too often the news is hijacked by those with an agenda, who want to use the introduction of the Equality Act as a hook to hang their particular issue on. HR professionals and lawyers know better than to get their information from the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph – but line managers, business owners and employees are vulnerable to misleading information of his sort.

Ultimately we are all victims of tabloid disinformation and Bannatyne accidentally touches on this in his article when he complains that the Equality Act:

encourages staff to cast themselves in the role of victim, no matter how trivial their complaint, and that leaves employers badly exposed.

As Darren points out:

What encourages people to regard themselves as victims is ill informed press reporting of employment rights, raising entirely false expectations of their chances of success and the riches they will gain as a result. If individuals think that they can raise trivial and ludicrous points and that the employer will be guilty until proven innocent, then the question is why do they think that? Is it perhaps because people like Duncan Bannatyne and the papers giving him a platform have told them so?

The sad truth is that Bannatyne has been given two huge platforms for his poorly-informed and woefully researched views on the Equality Act whilst a real expert has been left to correct these common misconceptions (or deceptions) in their spare time to a vastly smaller audience. Until this changes people will continue to see the Equality Act as a bad thing.

People actually view an act designed to ensure fairness and equality to all, irrespective of disability, race, gender, sexuality or religion as a bad thing. What kind of warped world are we living in?

‘Not hyperbolic. Not controversial. Not glossing over the finer detail. Just wrong.’

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.

The Guardian has picked up this story but no-one else in the mainstream media seems to have touched it, so go here and read the whole thing.

* Hat tip to @FlipChartFT for tweeting me this story.