Discrimination in the trade

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Discrimination License Pleading

Peter Coulson: 'Be wary of discrimination'
Peter Coulson: 'Be wary of discrimination'
Last week’s thought-provoking article by Dave Daly in The Guv’nor column was full of common sense about the long-standing issue of racial discrimination. In it, he counselled against going to the law, suggesting such matters should be kept in-house, and for the most part I agree with him — from his side of the bar.

Unfortunately, pub-goers are not always so restrained and in my time I have heard of numerous occasions when an affronted customer has complained to police or the authorities over some alleged slight that they have received in a pub, blaming the licensee for allowing it to happen.

Dave is right that it is a difficult issue, but it is inevitable that discussions of race, religion, bigotry, politics and even football are regularly discussed in a social environment such as the pub. I have not checked recently, but one pub I used to visit infrequently on my way home from work had a sign by the door

saying: ‘No race or politics to be discussed here’ put up by the eccentric licensee. There used to be a similar sentiment expressed in some social club rules as well. How times have changed, fortunately.

Sorting out arguments is one of the major skills of a pub licensee. One experienced host speaking at a BII (British Institute of Innkeeping) seminar some years ago talked about having a ‘sixth sense’ when trouble was brewing and I think that publicans do develop that skill over time and hope to defuse a situation before it gets out of hand.

On the other hand, there is an obligation on licensees not to allow any form of direct or indirect discrimination on their premises — either between customers and staff or the other way. These days this is not just race or sex but disability as well.

The culture of blame and claim, fuelled by certain types of lawyers, lends itself to allegations against premises for some perceived slight and often the issues are settled before the matter ever gets to court.

But the threat can hang over the premises and the licensee, and it is the attendant media publicity that is perhaps the worst element of this.

Harassment of staff
The other obligation that is important to note is harassment of staff, which I have mentioned before on these pages. There is now a specific law that requires an employer not to allow a member of staff to be harassed or victimised by customers and if they leave as a result of the pressure they can claim constructive dismissal.

In particular, sexual or racial harassment should be dealt with as soon as the matter is raised. It is no good dismissing the complaints of a barmaid, or telling her that “it is part of the job”.

It isn’t, and if she is made to feel uneasy about her treatment it is up to you to do something about it before you get into legal trouble.

Although it sometimes happens that an aggrieved customer threatens to go to the council about your licence if he is offended, it would be rare indeed if a review was to follow a falling out with a single individual.

Licensing officers are clear on the question of what is a valid representation, and it has to be something directly connected with the licensing objectives. Even alleged discrimination is not technically an issue for review, because there are other legal avenues that can be taken.

The officer will explain to the complainant that a quarrel with a licensee is not grounds for an attack on the licence itself, much as the customer would like it to be.

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