A company has been found guilty of race discrimination by an employment tribunal after it made its Indian staff call themselves by English names when talking to customers on the phone.

Race Discrimination
No Race Discrimination

The company which sells software to schools said it had asked its telesales employees from Indian origin to use an Anglicised version of their name on the phone and in their email address as it would help the customers avoid the difficulty of spelling Indian names.

Their white colleagues were not asked to use a false name.

Employee brought a race discrimination claim

After an Indian employee was made redundant he brought a claim for race discrimination. He said he was told to call himself ‘Rob’ when dealing with customers rather than his actual name, ‘Rahul’.

The company said that no offence was intended and they had the policy in place because customers found it easier to spell an English sounding name. This would make them less likely to make a spelling mistake on an email address.

The tribunal agreed that the employee had been discriminated against because the white employees did not have the same rules imposed on them. The tribunal is hoping that the employee and employer can come to an out of court settlement. It is likely to be around £5,000 for hurt feelings.

Company rules must apply to all ethnic groups

Employment law barrister Daniel Barnet said: “This is one of the first decisions under the Equality Act 2010, which replaced the Race Relations Act 1976 last October. It shows that tribunals will not shy away from controversial decisions.

“Despite everyone accepting the employer was well-motivated, the tribunal rejected an argument that the employer’s rule was justified by its desire to avoid misspelling of names on emails.”

Mr Barnet said that while it was not illegal to ask an employee to use a different name, it becomes discrimination when you are only asking employees from a certain ethnic group but not others.

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