A northern Ireland employer learned the hard way that having a sexual harassment policy is great – but you have to follow it.
A female employee in West Belfast was sexually harassed by a coworker. She complained and the employer conducted an investigation. The coworker “admitted that he had touched [her] and made comments to her, and while he claimed that it was all done ‘in fun and banter with no malice’, he admitted that some behaviour had been ‘inappropriate.’” The employer determined to issue the co-worker a 12-month written warning. So far, so good, and everything done appropriately and properly.
Except for one thing: no one thought of notifying the harassed employee of the determination, and she resigned and filed suit when she thought that nothing had been done.
An industrial tribunal awarded her £12,293 and held that “the constructive dismissal [her resignation] was bound up with the harassment complaint and thus amounted to an act of sex discrimination and was unfair. … This case illustrates the danger of an employer not being proactive in circumstances where members of staff are known to engage in physical contact; the invasion of someone’s space; and to engage in banter which could be construed as sexual harassment.”
An Equality Commission spokesperson said: “This case should remind all employers how important it is to ensure that their policies are actually being implemented and that managers take action when they become aware of problems of harassment. … As the tribunal said in its decision, these policies must become part of the fabric of the organisation.”