Those who endure the crushing experience of sexual harassment in the workplace owe it to themselves to seek legal redress. The point was made by the case of a supermarket worker who found herself immersed in a ‘man’s world’ where sexualised comments and behaviour went unchecked.
The promising teenager, who worked for a supermarket chain for about two and a half years, achieved swift promotion to shift manager. Following her resignation, however, she launched Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings complaining of sexual harassment contrary to Section 26(3) of the Equality Act 2010.
Upholding her complaint, the ET found that she endured sexual harassment almost throughout her employment. A deputy manager of the branch where she worked was the main perpetrator, having regularly subjected her to inappropriate touching and sexually suggestive comments.
So far as she was concerned, the store was a man’s world in which line managers did not consider that it was their role to police harassment. They had limited or no working knowledge of the chain’s anti-harassment policy and paid no attention to her complaints, closing their eyes and ears to the culture of harassment that had been allowed to develop.
The deputy manager did not appreciate that his behaviour was offensive and he did not intend to create an intimidating and humiliating environment for her. He said that he wanted to lighten the atmosphere, that he viewed the store’s staff as one big family and that workplace banter was not uncommon.
The ET found, however, that his unwanted comments and actions went beyond the realms of acceptability and reflected a lack of boundaries and a workplace culture in which, due to a lack of management training and awareness, harassing behaviour was allowed to go unchecked.
In also upholding her constructive unfair dismissal complaint, the ET found that she resigned because of the harassment, combined with her perception that she was not being paid properly and the failure of management to resolve her pay queries and complaints. There was a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence on which all employment relationships are built and she was entitled to treat her contract as having come to an end.
She further succeeded in a complaint that she was not, for a period of about three months, paid equally with a male colleague doing comparable work. An unlawful deduction from her wages had, on one occasion, also been made. If not agreed, the amount of her compensation would be assessed at a further hearing.