Case Study: Employee Awarded €40,000 in Sexual Harassment Case

Last updated: September 8th, 2016

In a recent case in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), a woman was awarded €40,000 for sexual harassment by her boss.

In this case, the WRC cited that the claimant provided “detailed and comprehensive examples of harassment”. The hearing was provided with screenshots of some “particularly lewd and offensive and pornographic images”. The claimant also had witnesses that witnessed the person in question “smack her on the bottom” and heard the person making “lewd remarks” regarding her appearance and gender.

The claimant said that the respondent “propositioned” her and sent multiple “unwelcome sexually explicit and offensive text messages, frequently out of hours”. She also experienced “frequent and repeated unwanted physical contact” and although rebuffing these sexual advances she was “laughed off and ultimately ignored”. The Claimant felt that she could not return to the company due to the ‘’respondent’s appalling behaviour” As a result of the findings the burden of proof shifted to the respondent to defend the allegations. However, the Respondent failed to attend the hearing. The Adjudication officer found the evidence presented by and on behalf of the Complainant left little room for doubt that she was subjected to the most offensive and degrading behaviour from the most senior person in the organisation. The Adjudicator said that “It is also abundantly clear that this behaviour created a most intimidating and hostile work environment’’ for the complainant. This was particularly so given the harasser’s position in the business. Sexual harassment can have a devastating consequence to one’s wellbeing. It can affect health, confidence, morale and performance. It may cause that person anxiety and/or stress and can lead that person to take sick leave.

The Claimant felt that she could not return to the company due to the ‘’respondent’s appalling behaviour” As a result of the findings the burden of proof shifted to the respondent to defend the allegations. However, the Respondent failed to attend the hearing.

The Adjudication officer found the evidence presented by and on behalf of the Complainant left little room for doubt that she was subjected to the most offensive and degrading behaviour from the most senior person in the organisation. The Adjudicator said that “It is also abundantly clear that this behaviour created a most intimidating and hostile work environment’’ for the complainant. This was particularly so given the harasser’s position in the business.

Sexual harassment can have a devastating consequence to one’s wellbeing. It can affect health, confidence, morale and performance. It may cause that person anxiety and/or stress and can lead that person to take sick leave. Also, the person can be less effective in the workplace or seek new employment, as in this case.

Where allegations of bullying are made by the employee against the owner of the business it is imperative that an independent person is appointed to conduct an investigation into the matter.   Although there are significant flaws in the above case, relating to lack of procedure and a complete absence of any defence on behalf of the employer, any flaw in an investigation of such a serious nature could render a constructive dismissal claim to be upheld.  It is advisable to always get expert advice in this area in order to ensure that it is managed correctly.

If you have any questions on the topics covered in this article, please contact our advice line on 01 886 0350.

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Nora Cashe

Peninsula

Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

Nora has extensive experience representing clients at Employment Tribunal hearings, Conciliation / Mediation meetings before both the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. 

Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

Deiric McCann

Genos International Europe

Deiric McCann leads Genos International Europe – The EU division of a world-leading provider of emotional intelligence solutions. 

With over two decades experience at the highest levels of management, Deiric supports clients to develop the resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety and engagements of their employees.

Rhiannon Coyne

Graphite HRM

Rhiannon Coyne is a Senior HR Consultant at Graphite HRM and will be providing an overview of best practice on how to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment in the workplace. 

With a number of recent updates to employment laws, Rhiannon will take a closer look at employment equality and how it is interlinked to Health & Safety and what employers can learn from recent case laws.

David Begg

Workplace Relations Commission

David Begg was appointed Chairperson of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in January 2021.

David is also a professor at Maynooth University Institute of Social Sciences. Mr Begg’s extensive history in the trade union movement included leading the ESB Officers Association and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, stepping away from the latter in 2001 to chair international aid agency Concern.

David Begg was also previously a director of the Central Bank of Ireland between 1995 and 2010.