People get extraordinarily excited over celebrity break ups. You’d have thought the world had come to an end the way social media and news rooms reacted over Angelina Jolie’s application for divorce ending her 12 year relationship and two-year marriage with Brad Pitt.’ The two met each other in 2004 on the set of one of their movies Mr & Mrs Smith. Brad Pitt started the relationship whilst he was still married to Jennifer Anniston.
There is no law against office or film set relationships, but the problem is they can be messy (especially when there are spouses or partners already in the picture) and employers often have to clear up the mess.
Sometimes employees are not seeking romance but are subjected to unwanted language or behaviour which violates their dignity or creates a work environment which is upsetting, degrading humiliating or intimidating. Cases of harassment can be very expensive, especially if the employer fails to manage the issue properly. On one occasion a BT telesales worker who was sexually harassed by her boss was awarded £290,000 in compensation.
Miss Taylor was employed as a sales executive working in a high pressured sales environment. Mr Alcock, her manager, had a bullying management style, using offensive, obscene, homophobic and racist language.
In January 2009, Miss Taylor asked for time off to see her GP, explaining it was in relation to her contraception. Mr Alcock's response was: "What are you telling me for, I'm not shoving it up you." It took four months after Miss Taylor’s complaint for senior managers to ask Mr Alcock to apologise. Miss Taylor felt she was forced to accept his apology and no further action was taken.
Mr Alcock's unpleasant behaviour continued and eventually Miss Taylor could take no more and resigned. She submitted a grievance to BT. Only then was Mr Alcock disciplined and dismissed.
Ms Taylor complained successfully to an employment tribunal. The award took into account her loss of earnings, including future loss (she had become so unwell because of Mr Alcock’s harassment that she could not work for the foreseeable future),injury to feelings, personal injury and aggravated damages.
Unsurprisingly the tribunal found that BT’s reaction to Miss Taylor’s complaint in January 2009 "fell woefully short of what should be expected from a company of this size". At the very least Mr Alcock should have been disciplined, been given a warning and been required to undertake appropriate training.
Sexual harassment can range from fairly minor stuff right the way through to very serious, even illegal actions. Take complaints of harassment seriously and deal with them properly and in a timely way. If you notice something that could constitute harassment don’t wait for a complaint. Deal with it.
We deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of HR. If you need help resolving problems with harassment, employee relationships or any other HR issues, give us a call on 01908 262628.
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