Matching salespeople to clients is discriminatory

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Banks could find themselves in hot water over a propensity to assign clients to salespeople based on cultural affinities between the two.

Last weekend's Financial Times carried an article on two former Muslim brokers who are suing their ex-employer, the Swiss stockbroker Financière Tradition, for religious discrimination after it allegedly diverted Jewish clients away from them in favour of non-Muslim colleagues.

Lawyers say client allocation could become a hot issue in the City, where salespeople tend to be assigned clients similar to themselves in the hope that the bond between the two might generate more revenues.

But allocating clients on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race or religion is unlawful. While it may, for example, be lawful to allocate a French-speaking salesperson to a French client, it wouldn't be lawful to allocate only native French people to French clients.

"It's a long established rule that you can't pander to the prejudices of clients," says Gareth Brahams, an employment lawyer at law firm Lewis Silkin. "Otherwise you might get shop owners saying they can't employ black assistants because people don't respond well to them."

Brahams says that you can only make a case for assigning a French-speaking person to a French client if you can demonstrate that the linguistic requirement is a 'proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'.

Having established the legitimate aim, e.g. building strong client relationships, it then becomes necessary to show a direct link between the aim and the requirement for French speakers. And that requirement needs to be proportionate. "If French-speaking people only achieve a 3% increase in sales over non-French speaking people the requirement would be considered disproportionate," Brahams adds.

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