A recent Employment Tribunal case provides a useful illustration for employers of how not to conduct an investigation into discrimination allegations. In a recent case, the Tribunal awarded £19,500 for injury to feelings to a zero hours worker who was subjected to sexual harassment.
The claimant was aged 22 and had a history of mental health issues at the time of the alleged harassment, which involved another employee asking her about her sex life, touching her bottom, kissing her neck and making other inappropriate sexual advances.
Initially, the claimant hadn’t wanted to make a formal complaint in case her zero hours contract shifts were reduced as a result. However, after confiding in her manager, a formal complaint was made and the manager investigated the claims.
Despite a witness to the harassment being identified, the claimant’s manager spent just ten minutes interviewing the witness and decided that no disciplinary action should be taken – not even a warning.
The claimant then lodged a claim for harassment at the Employment Tribunal. Her employer decided that her claims should be investigated again internally, by another HR manager. This time, the HR manager found “no conclusive evidence” and instead found that the claimant had to some extent encouraged the neck kissing that was witnessed by another employee.
The Employment Tribunal decided differently. Having taken into account the original papers relating to the first investigation and the consistent version of events given by the claimant in the second investigation, alongside the accused employee being unwilling to deny the allegations under oath, the Tribunal concluded that the claimant had been harassed and found her employer liable.
The Tribunal also took into account aggravating features, which merited a high award. The claimant was particularly vulnerable due to her young age and fragile mental health. Therefore, the abrupt nature of the employer’s investigation, followed by its protracted and inadequate way of dealing with the problem, magnified the effect of the harassment to the claimant in this case.
Advice for employers: Employment Tribunal claims
If you are thinking about tribunal proceedings, contact a member of our specialist business employment law team. Bray & Bray have three main offices across Leicestershire, feel free to phone or pop in to talk to our solicitors.