She reported that her line manager subjected her to 8 months of sexual harassment from February 2013 including allegations that he frequently asked her to talk about matters relating to her sex life and allegations of inappropriate sexual contact. After complaining about alleged bullying from another colleague, Miss Southern was signed off sick on 27 October 2013. Following an investigation into her complaints, the hotel manager found that the behaviour of the line manager towards Miss Southern was inappropriate, but no disciplinary action was taken.
Miss Southern lodged a claim for harassment in the Employment Tribunal. The Tribunal found that Miss Southern's line manager had subjected Miss Southern to harassment, and that Britannia was vicariously liable for this. Under section 109(4) of the Equality Act 2010 an employer can claim a statutory defence to discrimination or harassment committed by one of their employees where they can show that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination or harassment taking place. In this case, the statutory defence was not available to Britannia due to the fact that other managers knew the harassment was taking place but did not take steps to prevent it happening again. The Tribunal also held that all three of the separate investigations carried out by various senior managers were inadequate and flawed.
The Tribunal made an award of £19,500 for injury to feelings, and in doing so the Tribunal took a number of factors into account including the nature of the harassment, the fact that Miss Southern was young and vulnerable and also the way that the employer had handled the complaints.
As indicated, the reasonable steps defence may be open to an employer where one of their employees has discriminated or harassed another employee. The employer needs to be able to show that they have taken reasonable steps to prevent the discrimination or harassment.
Reasonable steps will include:
- having appropriate equality and harassment policies;
- ensuring employees are aware of the policies and their implications;
- training staff, including in particular manager and supervisors, in terms of the policies (a prudent employer would ensure that they carry out training on an annual basis, and keep a paper trail that such training has been delivered);
- acting swiftly and effectively in relation to any breach of policy including taking disciplinary action where appropriate.
Many organisations have equality and harassment policies but do not train staff regularly in respect of those policies. If no training has taken place then this is likely to mean that the reasonable steps defence will fail. We regularly provide training of this nature and if you would like to discuss this further please contact me using the details below.
For more information on injury to feelings awards in discrimination cases, read our blog here.