London Zoo has found itself in the employment tribunal as reported in the Daily Telegraph earlier this month. No the Meekats are not claiming that they have made protected disclosures, nor are the llamas attempting secondary picketing. However the two keepers of both these sets of animals became embroiled in a fight at a staff Christmas party in December last year. The fight allegedly resulted in one of the keepers hitting the other with a glass and slicing her cheek. The fight was allegedly over the amorous attention of a third (male) keeper of animals (also responsible for llamas and the children’s animal adventure area) in what has been dubbed “a ménagerie à trois”!
One of the love rivals was dismissed and the other was given a final written warning. The dismissed keeper, who was also called to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ court facing charges of assault, brought a claim for unfair dismissal. She also brought a claim for disability discrimination alleging that her attention deficit disorder and dyspraxia were not taken into account and that reasonable adjustments were not made by her employer.
We understand that the tribunal has reserved its judgment, but the case shows how employers and companies sometimes find themselves drawn into situations which have nothing to do with the business but in which they need to make sure that they are acting consistently and fairly. You do not need to treat everyone in the same way but you need to be able to show that you have taken into account where employees do have known disabilities. You must also have a rational and objective explanation for differences in treatment between staff. In this case the zoo’s HR director said there was a clear distinction in the seriousness of each of the employee’s actions and therefore their ultimate culpability.
HR practitioners should beware of these issues as we move into this year’s Christmas party season.
You never know what you might see if you go to the zoo!