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Company ordered to pay €46k to receptionist who was sexually harassed by her boss

The WRC found that the woman was subject to “a vile act of sexual innuendo” in a live web chat at the company.

Image: Shutterstock/Bacho

A CAR PARTS company has been ordered to pay €46,000 to a receptionist who was sacked as a result of the fall out of refusing to have sex with her boss.

In the case, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has made the maximum award available – two years’ salary to the woman – after finding that she was sexually harassed by her boss, including an incident at the Christmas staff party where she refused to have sex with him.

WRC Adjudication Officer, Marian Duffy said that she was making the maximum award available in order to “be effective, dissuasive and proportionate”.

Duffy said that the decision was based on “the completely inappropriate behaviour, and the fact the complainant lost her job because of the rejection of such behaviour”.

Duffy also found that the woman was subject to “a vile act of sexual innuendo” in a live web chat at the company.

She said that the live web chat content, which could be seen by many of the staff, “constituted an intimidating, hostile, offensive, degrading and humiliating work environment for the complainant”.

Evidence

In her evidence at the hearing, the woman said that at the company’s Christmas party in a Kilkenny hotel in December 2016, the owner (referred to as ‘Mr A’ in the WRC report) asked the woman to come to the bar and have a shot.

Mr A told her that she was doing a good job and then told her that she was gorgeous and suggested that she could have any of the men at the party pointing at the other employees.

The woman said that she was not interested in any of them.

After that Mr A began to make unwanted advances to her and asking her if she wanted to have sex with him.

He then proceeded to make a vulgar and inappropriate comment to her.

The woman told the hearing that she felt very uncomfortable.

She said that Mr A then gave her directions to his bedroom and he walked off towards it.

The woman told a work colleague about the incident and she said that she felt intimidated and worried about her job, and the fact that the owner of the company wanted to have sex with her.

Her work colleague brought her to the toilet to calm her down.

Hiring

The incident occurred only two months after the woman started work at the firm. She was working in a nearby petrol station where she got to know some of the personnel at the firm.

She was approached by the managing director and he told that there was a vacancy for a receptionist at the firm.

The woman said that she did a job interview with the MD and Mr A, but they did not ask her for any information about her experience or qualifications. She said that they just offered her the job.

She was to be paid €444 a week or €23,088 a year.

The role

Part of the woman’s work was to answer questions on the company’s live web chat that was being set up by the company. She said that she was keen to learn and went through archived transcripts of answer and question sessions.

She said that she came across one exchange where a question posed requested a sexual favour: “I need to a blow job”. In reply, the MD replied that it could not be provided because the complainant was not in that day.

The complainant said that she was very shocked, upset and humiliated when she read this and she immediately got in touch with the MD. He denied that he had written it.

The woman showed Mr A what was on the screen and he just laughed. She put it to him that she believed that he wrote it and he denied it saying that it was the MD.

Several days later the MD spoke to her and told her that it was the owner Mr A who was responsible for the live chat content.

On 22 March 2017, Mr A, asked the woman to come to the head office to drop off some paperwork. On that day, she was not wearing any make-up. As soon as she arrived, Mr A said “Did you lose your make-up?”

She told the hearing that she felt very self-conscious and embarrassed at the comment because she suffers from bad skin and is very conscious about it.

After that she made sure that she always wore make-up and the next day the owner commented that he was glad she had found her make-up again.

The complainant said that as a consequence of these incidents of sexual harassment, she felt increasingly uncomfortable in the workplace and suffered high levels of stress and anxiety.

As the problems related to the owner of the company, she felt unable to complain without risking her job.

The woman said that she did not want to lose her job because she saw it as a good job in which she was gaining a lot of experience.

In April, she asked for a pay-rise from the MD and instead of receiving a pay-rise, she was sacked.

The complainant said that she was shocked. She asked for the reason and the MD told her that it was because the owner said he could not talk to her anymore.

Response

In his evidence to the hearing, Mr A completely denied the allegations made by the woman concerning the Christmas party.

He categorically stated that nothing inappropriate occurred. He is emphatic that the alleged proposition outlined by the complainant absolutely did not happen. He said that these allegations are malicious and without foundation.

On the sexual comments made on the live web chat, Mr A said the MD was the only user name under which you could get into the system and any member of staff could have used the system under the MD’s name.

He accepted that the content of the live chat was offensive to the complainant.

The MD told the hearing that he let the woman go as she was not cut out for the job. He said that from early on that there were problems with her work, for example she was not taking telephone messages properly, not sending emails, missing digits from the telephone messages, and pricing things incorrectly.

Conclusion

In her findings, Duffy concluded that she was satisfied that Mr A dismissed the complainant because he could not talk to her since she had rejected the inappropriate treatment of her.

Duffy also found that Mr A subjected the woman during the course of her employment to the inappropriate treatment and to the inappropriate comments which she attributed to him.

Read: ‘I was devastated’: Former reporter on RTÉ ending her freelance contract on age grounds

Read: Radio Nova ordered to pay €30,000 to presenter who was unfairly fired

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Gordon Deegan

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