They made sure the event was ticket-only and arranged the security needed to quell the mob of trans activists who were expected to protest Rowling’s famously gender-critical views.
But at the last minute, the organizers have to cancel.
Not because of the woke up crowd. But because the bookstore owner fears they could be sued by their own hypersensitive young employees, a new law was passed with the support of Rishi Sunak‘s Conservative government.
That law would allow bookstore staff to sue their employer simply because they felt offended by the presence of a Rowling-supporting customer wearing a T-shirt with the slogan, “Woman = Adult Human Female.”
Imagine a world where a bookstore owner was brave enough to invite Harry Potter author JK Rowling (pictured) to speak
Not because of the awakened crowd. But because the bookstore owner fears they could be sued by their own hypersensitive young employees, a new law was passed under the backing of Rishi Sunak’s conservative government.
This bizarre scenario, outlined by Tory colleague Lord Strathcarron, is an example of what could happen if the blatant government-backed Worker Protection Bill – an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 – is passed into law in a matter of weeks.
The bill allows employees to sue their bosses if they feel offended or offended by something said by “third parties.” That could mean bar staff suing over a customer comment, or hospital staff suing the NHS over abusive comments made by a patient.
The comments don’t even have to be directed at the employee; just overhearing a crude joke can be enough to lead to a tribunal or lawsuit.
It must be said that the bill contains worthy measures against sexual harassment at work that enjoy wide support.
The rest of this appallingly ill-considered bill, now before the House of Lords, has been labeled “draconian” by Tory MPs, and Conservative colleagues are preparing to table amendments.
In its current form, this bill will legitimize our resort to victim culture and process culture. It could mean that every workplace becomes a surveillance state.
How did such a sinister bill pass the House with a huge majority in a Tory government? The answer, it seems, is that the government was asleep behind the wheel.
It began as a Private Members Bill proposed by MP Wera Hobhouse and a member of the House of Lords, Baroness Burt of Solihull, both of the meddlesome Liberal Democrats. Hobhouse and Burt are determined to clean up workplace interactions.
“The gossip of one is the intimidation of the other,” Hobhouse piously explains, in the words of one who clearly disrespects the principle of free speech.
Normally such bills sink without a trace. Yet it has passed through parliament almost unnoticed — with the result that two little-known Lib Dems could soon have free speech for ransom.
It has been suggested that the Worker Protection Bill has so far only passed the House of Commons because the Tory government, preoccupied with internal leadership turmoil, lost focus.
After all, the bill passed at first reading shortly before Boris Johnson’s government collapsed, and at second reading days after Liz Truss stepped down as prime minister. As one Tory rebel says, “It’s insane and nobody’s thought about it.”
In technical terms, the bill would impose an obligation on employers to prevent third-party harassment related to a “protected characteristic.” As defined in the Equal Law these are: age; disability; sex change; marriage and registered partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation.
There can’t be many who can’t claim to be victims of one or more of those groups.
And given that it legitimizes victimization, it will certainly entrench the culture of compensation: if you take offense, why not prosecute? This will not only be a problem for individual employers who are hit with potentially crippling legal costs. We will all pay a price in the end.
The problems and costs associated with the corporate litigation culture are already driving up our insurance premiums, and this bill will only add more pressure to pass the costs on to us poor gamblers.
The bill also applies to the public sector, including the extensive resources of the NHS – which paid £2.4bn for medical negligence lawsuits last year – and to local government
The bill also applies to the public sector, including the limited resources of the NHS – which paid £2.4bn for medical negligence lawsuits last year – and to local government.
Why would an employer pay for the behavior of its clients and customers – over which they have no real control?
In practice, the Worker Protection Bill poses a sinister threat to our freedom of speech. It places the responsibility on employers to take “all reasonable steps” to avoid offending their staff.
That can only lead to bosses trying to impose pre-emptive forms of censorship to avoid being taken to court. Do we want our lively pubs to be reduced to a state of quiet barrenness, as if they were public libraries instead of pubs?
Former Treasury Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has suggested that any establishment serving the public should “expect to run a police state in their business” in the future.
Any cleaner, auto mechanic, doctor’s receptionist or lawyer can effectively be signed up as Stasi-like agents, spying on the public for any sign of offensive language or behavior.
The government claims to have made amendments to the bill to ensure that people can still express ‘legitimate opinions’. But these amendments offer little protection, as workers can only file a claim if all four conditions are met.
First, employers would have to prove that the offensive comment was overheard by the employee, but not directed at them; than that the violation was unintentional; that the perpetrator had expressed an ‘opinion on politics, religion or social matters’; and that the comments were not “grossly” offensive or indecent.
This sets the bar impossibly high for employers to avoid a claim. For example, how could a bartender hope to prove that a drunken customer was not “intentionally” insulting his bartender and that his remarks were political but not abusive?
While campaigning to become Tory leader, Sunak vowed to end the “mission creep” of New Labour’s Equality Act of 2010, which he labeled “a Trojan horse that has allowed every kind of waking nonsense to enter the public to penetrate life’.
So it seems inconceivable that the Prime Minister would have allowed this legislation to pass through the House of Commons without proper scrutiny.
All in all, this raises the more worrying prospect that the bill has been thought through. After all, Sunak spokesmen have made it clear that the government remains fully behind the bill.
We must hope that rumors of a Tory rebellion prompt the government to regain focus, recognize the dangers ahead and scrap this falsely named worker protection bill.
As a reminder, in George Orwell’s 1984 dystopian novel, the Big Brother regime doesn’t just suppress freedom through booted thugs. More insidious, it does this through an informal surveillance system that encourages your co-workers, neighbors, and even children to write down everything you say and do, leaving you fearful of being seen out of turn.
The Worker Protection Bill, with its apt Orwellian double colloquial name, would bring us another step on that slippery slope.
- Mick Hume is the author of Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?