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29th March 2023

Harassment in the workplace

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Shirley Lyons (“the Claimant”) was employed by Starplan (“the Respondent”) as a designer/sales consultant from June 2013 until her resignation in April 2018.

At the Respondent’s Christmas party in December 2017, the Claimant was the only female employee in attendance. At a restaurant, one of her male colleagues commented on her breasts and cleavage whilst also hugging her from behind without her consent. Comments such as ‘you should have tied the girls up better’ and ‘great tits’ were made to the Claimant during the course of the evening.

Following the incident, the Claimant complained to her line manager and raised a grievance stating that she has been verbally and physically sexually harassed at the Christmas party. The Respondent investigated the grievance interviewing a number of colleagues who were both accused and witnessed the incident. In February 2018, the Respondent provided the outcome of the grievance in which they partially upheld the Claimant’s grievance.

Upon receiving this, the Claimant appealed the outcome of the grievance noting a number of inaccuracies in the findings and that the outcome was predetermined. Following her grievance, the Claimant stated that she was ignored and excluded by her colleagues whilst also being subject to intimidating and abusive language. Comments made by colleagues included ‘we will sort you out, we will take you down, we have a solicitor’, ‘you’ll be responsible for him losing his job and marriage’.

On 7 April 2018, the Claimant resigned with immediate effect citing the reason was the incident that took place in December 2017 and the victimising acts suffered following the grievance.

On 18 April 2018, the Respondent confirmed that the grievance appeal was not upheld rejecting that the grievance outcome was predetermined.

Whilst the Respondent did hold a disciplinary hearing for some of the individuals involved finding that the acts amount to gross misconduct, however only issuing a final written warning.

The Claimant was successful in her claim and awarded £18,857 by the employment tribunal for her claims of unfair dismissal, harassment and victimisation. The award included: basic award, compensatory award and injury to feelings.

Whilst the incident in December 2017 took place outside of the workplace, as it was an organised work event an employer is still reasonable for ensuring appropriate levels of behaviour. Employers should ensure that they have sufficient policies in place which details the process and procedure for dealing with such claims. Ensuring that adequate training is in place which enforce the standards required.

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