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Catering firm ordered to pay €3,500 to worker over boss's boxer shorts photo

The woman resigned from the company after finding the images “quite disgusting and most upsetting”.

Image: Shutterstock/Melinda Nagy

A CATERING CHAIN here has been ordered to pay out €3,500 to a former female employee after a manager circulated two images to staff, including one of himself wearing only his boxer shorts.

At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Adjudication Officer, Michael McEntee found that the 19-year-old catering worker was sexually harassed concerning her boss circulating the two images.

According to McEntee, the facts alleged that on 7 December 2019, the catering worker’s boss posted on a web group chat a picture of himself wearing only his boxer shorts.

The catering worker alleged that her then-boss made suggestive sexual comments regarding the boxer shorts.

Two days later on 9 December, the catering worker alleged that her boss also posted to the group chat an image of male genitalia on a flat white coffee cup top.

She stated that she found both images “quite disgusting and most upsetting”.

At the hearing, the images of the two group web texts were shown to McEntee.

The company investigation

The worker reported the incidents to her employer six weeks later last January and she stated that a female area manager suggested she move to a different branch of the chain.

The catering worker interpreted this as further discrimination as she was being asked to move rather than the alleged perpetrator.

She stated that she found the stress of the entire situation too much and took sick leave on stress grounds on 22 January last and resigned from the company on the 4 February.

In response to the complaint, the employer stated that it initiated an immediate investigation when informed and after an investigation, the manager was demoted from his manager role and reassigned at a lower rank to another branch of the chain.

The catering chain told the hearing that the behaviour complained of was completely unprofessional of a manager but was done in the context of webchat group involving males and females, was never repeated and was not the subject of any other complaints from other, potentially impacted, staff members.

The WRC findings

In his findings, McEntee stated that while the employer had been admirable in the post-incident actions, they had erred in the preventative stage.

McEntee commented that the harassment took place and post-incident actions, while admirable, are it could be said “bolting the door after the horse has left”.

Making the €3,500 award for sexual harassment against the employer, McEntee stated that being a large employer of staff of mixed genders and nationalities an oversight in providing training and awareness in this area was a management weakness.

McEntee noted that local management had received any formal training in how to address sexual harassment and that the catering chain had recently commissioned a HR consultancy firm to conduct a company-wide training programme in this area.

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Labour Court appeal

Employment law expert, Richard Grogan represented the catering worker in the case.

Grogan confirmed that the quantum of the award is being appealed to the Labour Court.

He stated: “We do not believe the level of compensation awarded compensates our client for the sexual harassment she endured.”

Grogan stated that the images at the centre of the case are “reprehensible and a very serious breach of her rights but equally, such low awards in no way, in our opinion, can be seen as a deterrent for the employer to take the steps necessary to ensure no further repeat will occur”.

The Dublin based solicitor stated: “Sexual harassment of either men or women is an egregious breach of equality legislation and dignity in the workplace.”

Grogan stated that it is far more serious where the person sexually harassed is 19 years of age.

About the author:

Gordon Deegan

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