Miss Congeniality – A HR Nightmare?

An article in the latest issue of People Management Magazine casts a light on the HR and Employment law ramifications raised by plot elements of the hit film Miss Congeniality.

In the movie, agent Eric Matthews, in an attempt to identify which member of his team would be the best choice to go undercover at a beauty contest, uses his computer to simulate what his colleagues would look like in a bikini. When his coworkers gather at the computer to jeer at the results which include mock-ups of older women and senior leadership, we run into a problematic area.

They pose the question: Could this be classed as workplace bullying and discrimination? Could and should his employers have stopped this with proper training?

People Management spoke to Amo Bains, HR advisor at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.

“Jeering at what senior leadership and older female colleagues would look like in bikinis could potentially be classed as direct discrimination on the grounds of the protected characteristics of age and sex.”

Bains goes on to point out that, in lieu of a clearly defined policy on what constitutes bullying in the workplace, it is often characterised as “behaviour that is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting and is often intended to humiliate or injure the recipient.”

The lesson to be learned is this: Employers should have a clear policy and procedure in place that outlines what constitutes bullying and discrimination in the workplace and how it will be dealt with. What is banter for one person crosses the line into bullying for another and everyone deserves to work in an environment where they are respected and valued for their knowledge and skills regardless of their age, sex, or other protected characteristic.