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Employment Law Case Update: Sexual Harassment

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Fostering a positive atmosphere in the workplace is important and employees that get along and enjoy working together is always a welcome sight to employers, but what happens if that friendliness is over stepped?

In Prewett v Green King the Employment Tribunal found a pub manager had been sexually harassed after a senior colleague made sexual innuendos towards her.

The first incident was on 1 August 2018 when the line manager, Mr Gaunt, and the risk manager, Mr Bentley, arranged to meet Ms Prewett to talk about their kitchen standards after failing a food hygiene audit.

At the meeting Ms Prewett heard Mr Bentley ask Mr Gaunt: “Do you know what a growler is?”

Mr Gaunt did not know and Mr Bentley told Ms Prewett: “If you know don’t tell him,” then told a joke about a “bloke saying when I ask for a growler, I don’t want a pork pie”.

The tribunal heard that “growler” was a Yorkshire term for a pork pie, but was also sometimes “a slang term for a vagina”.

Ms Prewett was confused because she did not know what a “growler” was and she felt uncomfortable because Mr Bentley had included her in the discussion. When she googled what it meant, she was not happy about the language used.

The second incident was when Mr Bentley visited again on 13 August 2018. Ms Prewett asked him what he wanted to see, he replied: “Depends on what’s on offer…” and then touched the back of her shoulder, which again made her feel uncomfortable.

On 11 September 2018, Ms Prewett resigned because of Mr Bentley’s comments, which she saw as sexual harassment. She raised a formal grievance, and investigation meetings were held by Greene King. Mr Bentley claimed that his comment had been about a type of beer jug called a “growler” and had not been a rude joke. Ms Prewett’s internal grievance and appeal were rejected, so she brought claims of sexual harassment and unfair dismissal.

The tribunal dismissed her unfair dismissal claim, but upheld her sexual harassment claim.  Mr Bentley’s sexual innuendo was “conduct of a sexual nature and therefore prohibited conduct” within the Equality Act 2010.

This case is an important reminder for employers to provide staff training on acceptable and unacceptable behaviour at work. Employers should remind their staff that they should avoid making jokes or comments if they are not sure how it will be received. Even if the person making the comment had no “malicious intent”, the making of sexual innuendos could reasonably be seen to create a hostile work environment and violate an individual’s dignity. The ET will consider the effect the comment has had on the person and so intending a comment as a ‘joke’ does not prevent a finding of harassment.

If you have any questions regarding this article, or you need advice on how to investigate an claim of unacceptable behaviour at work, you can call our Employment team today on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

This was previously part of our weekly Employment Law Newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, please email us at events@warnergoodman.co.uk or click here for the subscription form.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.