Sexual Harassment At Work

The recently published Labour Court determination against Costa Coffee in respect of a sexual harassment case taken by a former employee should provide a stern reminder for employers in respect of their responsibilities to not only have in place appropriate anti-harassment and bullying polices, but to ensure that they are communicated properly and understood and that managers are fully trained in their responsibilities with regard to the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Labour Court determined that the previous Adjudication Officer award of €3,500 should be increased to €20,000 (one year’s salary) as a proportionate and dissuasive disincentive against future infractions by the employer.

The 19 year old part-time employee had complained she had been sent inappropriate messages and images in a work chat group by her Manager including a picture of him in his underwear and references to male genitalia and how the best coffee art in this regard would be beneficial to the employee concerned. The employee resigned before the Company investigation into her complaint was concluded. The employee had also been given the option of mediation by the Area Manager who then conducted the investigation or to be moved to another Store.

The Court concluded that the behavior of the Manager on an operational chat group was clearly more than banter and was unwanted by the employee, and did not fall into the lower classification of less serious misbehaviour as the Adjudication Officer had determined.

In addition to the award of compensation made, the Court also ordered the Company to develop appropriate bullying, harassment and sexual harassment policies, as well as a social media policy in reference to the wholly inappropriate use of an operational chat group in which the harassment occurred. (Ref EDA2128)