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Sexual harassment in the workplace

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A guide to dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace

It has been reported that a female bus driver, who found herself in a profession with an estimated 90 per cent of the workforce being male, recently won a claim of constructive unfair dismissal, harassment and discrimination as a result of her employer “trivialising and belittling” her complaints of discrimination.

It is understood that the claimant was continually harassed by her male colleagues by the use of sexually suggestive comments, which led her to feel so uncomfortable within her role that she felt it necessary to raise a complaint. It is further understood that upon complaining about the behaviour of her male colleagues, her employer did not formally investigate the same, effectively dismissed the issue raised by suggesting that her male colleagues would “be joking” and advised her that she should pretend to be pregnant or married to avoid any future harassment.

It is reported that due to the lack of support from her employer and despite being warned not to from her operating manager, the claimant wrote a group email to all 500 drivers telling them to “keep your hands and thoughts to yourselves”. Her operations manager subsequently responded to her email stating that “emails of this nature are completely unacceptable and we have discussed this issue on a number of occasions”, warning that she was at risk of disciplinary action as a result of her mass email.

The employment judge found that the company treated the claimant less favourably than they would have treated a hypothetical male complainant of harassment, by trivialising and belittling her allegations, by expressing partiality in favour of the alleged perpetrators, and by advising her as the apparent victim of harassment, to adopt tactics of avoidance and to lie whilst doing so as an alternative to addressing the underlying wrong of harassment.

It is understood that the actions of her male colleagues, left the claimant to feel that she had no option but to be signed off work sick and it was only at this point that the company investigated her grievance. However, the company did not uphold her grievance and the employment tribunal found that the company’s failure to uphold the grievance was an act of discrimination in itself.

The claimant resigned from the company in September 2017, having never returned from sick leave. The tribunal found that this amounted to a claim of constructive unfair dismissal.

The tribunal subsequently awarded the claimant £55,167.20 in compensation, broken down into claims payments in respect of sex discrimination and constructive unfair dismissal. The sex discrimination award for injury to feelings amounted to £17,000.

This judgment makes it clear that sexually suggestive “jokes” are not acceptable in the workplace and a female’s complaints of such conduct should not be dismissed by her employer. Employers therefore need to be conscious not to favour the perpetrator following allegations of harassment and ensure that a thorough investigation and action is taken to provide an acceptable environment for all employees in the workplace.

If you feel that you have been the victim of sex discrimination in the work place and you would like to speak to a member of our specialist team, call us on 01616 966 229 or complete an online enquiry form without delay.