'Peak idiocy' | Why the strange case of Scotland's Period Dignity Officer is an HR nightmare

Why the strange case of Scotland's Period Dignity Officer is an HR nightmare

It seems inevitable, when assessing the series of strange twists and turns in the story of Scotland’s first ever ‘period dignity officer’, that the whole case should end with a lawsuit.

To sum up the case: a project team comprising two councils and a college created the role, with the goal of educating and reducing stigma around periods, particularly within colleges and local authorities. A man, rather than a person who menstruates, was chosen for the role. Facing a huge amount of furore and abuse, the man was told the role was scrapped. He's now suing.

At its very core, the job is an entirely reasonable and even progressive prospect. It was funded by the Scottish Government to pick up where Holyrood’s ground-breaking legislation (making tampons and pads free, and ensuring that they’re available in schools) left off.

When announcing the role, the project team in charge of the appointment, which was made up of representatives from Dundee City Council, Angus Council and Dundee & Angus College, heralded it as a ‘pioneering new role to end period poverty and reduce stigma’. It was alleged that whoever took on the position would ‘coordinate and streamline the approach to ‘period dignity’ across the region by working directly with the colleges and local authorities’.

Appointment furore and ‘peak gender idiocy’?

However, a series of controversial decisions, and some serious alleged miscalculations on the part of the employer, made this debacle one that is ripe for the accolade of 'worst HR-centric shambles of the year' so far. Or is it?

The first, and perhaps most controversial decision that the project team made, was hiring a man for the role. It was announced in August that Jason Grant, previously a personal trainer and most recently Student Wellbeing Officer with Dundee and Angus College, would take on the title of Period Dignity Officer.

Grant argued that his previous history, and the very fact that he was indeed a male, made him a prime candidate for the role.

“In many ways, this new role is a natural progression for me,” he noted, adding, “I think being a man will help me to break down barriers, reduce stigma and encourage more open discussions. Although affecting women directly, periods are an issue for everyone.”

Yet, being a high-profile, public-facing role, it seemed that some felt he was incorrect in this assessment. In fact, opposition to the decision was widespread, and extremely vocal. SNP leader, Ian Blackford, commented that it would be “far better” if women occupied such roles, whilst Baroness Fox accused the Scottish Government of “peak gender idiocy”.

Other vocal protesters included tennis star Martina Navratilova, who added that hiring Grant was tantamount to “institutionalised mansplaining”.

Role repealed

From here, this ethically murky case got, well, even more murky. Initially, Grant’s employers defended the move, stating that “With all partners in the working group equal opportunities employers, Jason was the strongest candidate”.

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However, just days later, the Period Dignity Working Group announced that it has chosen to scrap the role entirely, citing ‘threats and abuse’ as the key impetus for the decision. A spokesperson for the working group noted: "It is regrettable that given the threats and abuse levelled at individuals in recent weeks, the period dignity regional lead officer role will not continue.”

Grant’s legal case against his employer

Again, this attracted widespread attention, with some questioning if the decision to un-hire Jason Grant to the role didn’t offer up its own ethical issues. Grant, for his part, totally agreed, in turn choosing to take legal action against his now ex-employer, citing the Equality Act 2010, with the possibility of a sexual discrimination claim.

In essence, Grant claims that to fire him overtly based on the grounds that he isn’t a person that menstruates is illegal. Lawyer Ryan Russell, of MML Legal, told the press that Mr Grant was also "publicly dismissed" before being given written confirmation that the role had been scrapped, adding to the treasure trove of questionable HR decisions being made in this case.

"The partnership chose to remain completely silent in the last few weeks until publicly announcing his dismissal from the post. During this time, the partnership said nothing whilst Jason came under constant attack from all around the globe,” Russell said.

"There are many legal issues arising not only from his appointment, but in the decisions that have been made not to support Jason or stand by their appointment which could impact his health, career and future prospects. If Jason was not a man, would he have been dismissed from the role? How would you feel if this was a member of your family?" he added.

What does it all mean?

Whilst the legalities within this case are quite literally yet to be determined (watch this space for an update on the case), ethically there is much that likely continues to divide opinion. Ultimately, Grant was either wrongfully hired, or wrongfully made redundant from his role – either way, his employer should have considered the implications of their decisions far more than it did.

Where do you stand on this complex case? Let us know in the comments.

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