I recently completed a matter for a lovely client who had been subjected to prolonged sexual harassment by her line manager. Our client was a young woman in her first job after leaving school and worked in the Lincoln office of a large national company. She was one of only two female members of staff in a team of ten.
She came to see me as she felt ‘something was wrong’. It had taken her a long time to disclose what was happening to her parents. They could see she was unhappy and said she had changed from a bubbly, outgoing person to someone who was withdrawn and reluctant to leave the house. When they found out what had been happening, they encouraged her to seek legal advice as soon as possible. During the course of our meeting, she described an appalling chain of events which began almost immediately she started her job. She explained:-
1. That the Branch Manager and his male colleagues would openly speculate on whether she was going to have sex at the weekend and who with.
2. The Branch Manager began discussions, speculation and then sought suggestions from his male colleagues as to what colour underwear she was wearing.
3. The Branch Manager would openly touch her shoulders and back whilst she was seated at her computer. This was done in front of others and if she objected he suggested she was ‘frigid’.
4. The Branch Manager speculated on what she and the other female member of staff might be like in a ‘threesome’ with him.
5. The Branch Manager graded her and the other female member of staff against female visitors to the office. He took pleasure in stating whether or not she was as pretty, as sexy or generally better or worse than the female visitor.
6. The Branch Manager and his male colleagues made various suggestions to my client as to how she should dress so she could look ‘sexier’.
At the end of what was a very distressing meeting for my client, I had no hesitation in advising her that these were acts of sexual harassment. I also reassured her that she had done nothing wrong. She was worried she might, in some way, have done something to justify the manager’s behaviour. I explained sexual harassment was unlawful and in breach of the Equality Act 2010.
She commented she felt very vulnerable as this was her first job and the Branch Manager knew she could not afford to lose her employment. She also stated that on a number of occasions, he commented that if she ‘dobbed him in’ he would make sure she never got a job again. My client had been extremely distressed but simply did not know what to do about the situation.
She also thought that the Branch Manager’s behaviour towards her was escalating and she was now afraid to be alone with him. He had made various attempts to ask her to come in on Saturday, to work late or come in early when no-one else would be in the office. She and her female colleague had a pact that neither would leave the other alone with him. However, this situation could not go on forever and they were both very frightened as the potential consequences.
I submitted a Formal Grievance for my client setting out all of the events she had described and that she sought protection from Human Resources. As members of staff became aware of my client’s Formal Grievance, other women came forward including visitors to the company, customers, members of staff past and present etc.
My client was asked how she wanted to move forward. She stated that she did not really want to go back into such an environment. Even if the Branch Manager was dealt with and disciplined then she would still have to deal with his, as she described him, ‘cronies’. I therefore negotiated an exit package for my client which included a fully deserved positive reference, three months’ notice pay, compensation and a few other bits and pieces which would smooth the way to her finding alternative employment.
My client was able to find a new job within two weeks of leaving her employer. On our last visit, she seemed like a different woman having been away from such a toxic and corrosive environment. She loves her new job and she has a substantial amount of money in the bank to help her in the future. My client was delighted with the result and commented that when we had first met she simply could not see a way out of the situation. Now, she is looking forward to a very bright future.
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Specialist Employment Law Solicitor
Lincs Law Solicitors, Lincoln.