Asked to stay slim, cook, and clean, worker wins sexual harassment claim

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Tragically, over 32% of women say their careers have been affected by sexual harassment and over 70% have encountered or witnessed inappropriate behaviour from male colleagues at work.

As a HR professional, how can you tackle this issue for your organisation?

A recent case highlights the importance of having comprehensive anti-harassment and bullying policies, accompanied by regular training of all staff, including management.

What happened?

This case concerned an office assistant working for a textile company. Throughout the duration of her employment, her boss had made numerous comments of a sexual nature, including:

  • Texting the claimant that she was “a fatty” who “need to start gym” because he “want[s] [her] to be slim and smart” and “want[s] slim smart girls in [the] office.”
  • Referring to her second job as a DJ as the “work of prostitutes” noting that “no one would marry [her]” and that he should “stop fancying [her].”
  • Asking female employees “where is my lunch” and instructing them to unpack his personal clothes from his suitcase as this was “woman’s work.”
  • Calling another female colleague a “lesbian” after she rejected his advances and suggesting that she and the claimant “should get together.”

It was found that the boss had created a degrading and humiliating work environment by holding outdated views of a subservient female and making comments of a sexual nature. This conduct amounted to harassment on the grounds of sex and both the employer and the boss were ordered jointly to pay her compensation of £18,984.

How should you handle similar claims?

Where an employee has harassed another on the grounds of either sex, or another protected characteristic, the employer may not be liable where they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent the harassment from happening. Reasonable steps are likely to include:

  • Actioning any complaints of bullying or harassment swiftly and in strict accordance with grievance procedures/ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.
  • Ensuring that an independent and impartial investigation is conducted by collating evidence regarding the conduct and allowing any accused employee time to respond to the allegations. Once a meeting has been arranged with the employee, the complainant and any witnesses, a decision can then be made as to whether disciplinary action should be taken.
  • Implementing robust equal opportunities and anti-harassment and bullying policies and procedures, setting the bar for acceptable behaviour in the workplace.
  • Ensuring all employees, including management/senior leadership, are aware of these policies and procedures through provision of regular training.
  • Updating your disciplinary policy where necessary, so that it lists examples of what is likely to amount to gross misconduct, along with relevant sanctions.

Capital Law Employment Investigations

If you are faced with a sexual harassment complaint, our team of experienced independent and impartial employment lawyers and investigators can provide hands on investigation support. Please call us for an initial chat on 0808 196 3151 or learn more here.