A catering chain has been ordered to pay out €3,500 to a female former 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 Mr McEntee, on December 7, 2019, the catering worker’s boss allegedly posted a picture of himself wearing only his boxer shorts on a web group chat. The catering worker alleged that her then boss made suggestive sexual comments regarding the boxer shorts.
Two days later on December 9, 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 hearing, the images of the two group web texts were shown to Mr McEntee.
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 a 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 January 2 last. She resigned from the company on February 4.
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 web chat group involving males and females, was never repeated and was not the subject of any other complaints from other, potentially impacted, staff members.
In his findings, Mr McEntee stated that while the employer had been admirable in the post-incident actions, they had erred in the preventative stage.
Making the €3,500 award for sexual harassment against the employer, Mr 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.
Mr McEntee noted the catering chain had recently commissioned a HR consultancy firm to conduct a company-wide training programme in the area of sexual harassment.
Employment law expert, Richard Grogan represented the catering worker in the case.
Mr Grogan confirmed on Thursday 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.”