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08.09.2016

Case Study: Employee Awarded €40,000 in Sexual Harassment Case

In a recent case in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), a woman was awarded €40,000 for sexual harassment by her boss.

In this case, the WRC cited that the claimant provided “detailed and comprehensive examples of harassment”. The hearing was provided with screenshots of some “particularly lewd and offensive and pornographic images”. The claimant also had witnesses that witnessed the person in question “smack her on the bottom” and heard the person making “lewd remarks” regarding her appearance and gender.

The claimant said that the respondent “propositioned” her and sent multiple “unwelcome sexually explicit and offensive text messages, frequently out of hours”. She also experienced “frequent and repeated unwanted physical contact” and although rebuffing these sexual advances she was “laughed off and ultimately ignored”. The Claimant felt that she could not return to the company due to the ‘’respondent’s appalling behaviour” As a result of the findings the burden of proof shifted to the respondent to defend the allegations. However, the Respondent failed to attend the hearing. The Adjudication officer found the evidence presented by and on behalf of the Complainant left little room for doubt that she was subjected to the most offensive and degrading behaviour from the most senior person in the organisation. The Adjudicator said that “It is also abundantly clear that this behaviour created a most intimidating and hostile work environment’’ for the complainant. This was particularly so given the harasser’s position in the business. Sexual harassment can have a devastating consequence to one’s wellbeing. It can affect health, confidence, morale and performance. It may cause that person anxiety and/or stress and can lead that person to take sick leave.

The Claimant felt that she could not return to the company due to the ‘’respondent’s appalling behaviour” As a result of the findings the burden of proof shifted to the respondent to defend the allegations. However, the Respondent failed to attend the hearing.

The Adjudication officer found the evidence presented by and on behalf of the Complainant left little room for doubt that she was subjected to the most offensive and degrading behaviour from the most senior person in the organisation. The Adjudicator said that “It is also abundantly clear that this behaviour created a most intimidating and hostile work environment’’ for the complainant. This was particularly so given the harasser’s position in the business.

Sexual harassment can have a devastating consequence to one’s wellbeing. It can affect health, confidence, morale and performance. It may cause that person anxiety and/or stress and can lead that person to take sick leave. Also, the person can be less effective in the workplace or seek new employment, as in this case.

Where allegations of bullying are made by the employee against the owner of the business it is imperative that an independent person is appointed to conduct an investigation into the matter.   Although there are significant flaws in the above case, relating to lack of procedure and a complete absence of any defence on behalf of the employer, any flaw in an investigation of such a serious nature could render a constructive dismissal claim to be upheld.  It is advisable to always get expert advice in this area in order to ensure that it is managed correctly.

If you have any questions on the topics covered in this article, please contact our advice line on 01 886 0350.

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