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You may remember the song ‘That’s Not My Name’ from a few years ago, that will have struck a chord with the claimant in Jain v Teachers 2 Parents Ltd.
Mr Rahul Jain, an Indian born Telesales Operative, complained to an employment tribunal that he had been subject to race discrimination as a result of being asked by his manager to use a more ‘English’ name. Other new starters of ethnic origin were asked to do the same during their induction. The reason given for asking the employees to change their names at work was that emails intended for those with names which were more difficult to spell had gone astray. This was because customers had misspelled the email address. Mr Jain and his colleagues agreed to the request to adopt more anglicised names, with Mr Jain reluctantly agreeing to being called Rob.
The employment tribunal found that Mr Jain had been directly discriminated against when pressure was put on him to use a more ‘English’ name. The employer would not have required a white telesales employee who was of British origin to use another name if theirs was difficult to spell. Mr Jain had been treated less favourably
because of his ethnic origin.
The tribunal also found that the employer had indirectly discriminated against Mr Jain by applying the requirement that staff adopt anglicised names. This was not a proportionate means for the employer to achieve the aim of reducing the risk of emails getting lost due to errors in the spelling of names.
Whilst the decision in this case is unlikely to come as a surprise, it is not only asking employees to change their names that can get employers into trouble with the law. The more common scenario that can arise is where employees have nicknames forced on them because these are ‘easier’ than using the employee’s actual name.
If this is because of the employee’s race, this could give rise to a race discrimination claim.
Remember, all employees need to be treated fairly. In the context of employee’s names this means using their actual name, unless they have informed you that they wish to be addressed differently. You will also need to ensure that your employees address each other appropriately and that you take action where this is not occurring.