LIFE BITE: “Time’s up” for Sexual Harassment in the Work Place

apple-150579_1280Last week’s Golden Globe Awards were dominated by the sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed Hollywood, with many actresses and actors choosing to wear black as a sign of solidarity with victims of sexual abuse and harassment.

“Time’s Up” has become the slogan, and hashtag on social media, encapsulating the reaction to recent revelations about extensive sexual abuse and harassment in the entertainment industry.

The website  www.timesupnow.com which has been set up in the USA by multiple organisations including the National Women’s Law Center, reports that 1 in 3 women aged 18-34 years old have been sexually harassed in the workplace while over 70% failed to report it.

In light of this, we thought we it would be helpful to look briefly at Sexual Harassment in the Northern Ireland workplace and what employees and employers can do to protect themselves.

Sexual Harassment is defined in the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 as “unwanted conduct” that is sexual in nature and effectively violates the victim’s dignity or “creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”

The definition is extremely wide, and it is not necessary to prove that the conduct was intentional. For this reason, it is vital that a zero-tolerance culture exists and that it is explained clearly to all employees the sorts of behaviours that are unacceptable.  An act which one person may deem to be insignificant could be considered by an Employment Tribunal to be harassment. The following behaviours can amount to sexual harassment but this list is not exhaustive:-

  • Written or verbal comments of a sexual nature such as remarks/ questions/ jokes about a colleague’s appearance or sex life
  • Sending or forwarding on emails that contains content of a sexual nature
  • Displaying pornographic or explicit images
  • Unwanted physical contact and touching
  • Sexual assault

Employers owe a duty of care to their employees and may ultimately be held liable for harassment.   They should not only ensure that adequate policies are in place to prevent such incidents but also to deal with them when they arise, in a manner that is sufficiently serious, confidential and allows the complainant to be treated with dignity and respect.

Employees should seek legal advice as soon as possible and note that the time limit for bringing a case to a Tribunal is usually 3 months from the date the discriminatory act took place.

If you require any further information on sexual harassment in the workplace, whether you are an employer or employee, please feel free to contact us here or leave your comments below.

LIFE BITE : Pregnancy Discrimination claims settled for 3 NI women

apple-150579_1280Three women in Northern Ireland have recently received settlements totalling £15,500 after being subjected to pregnancy or maternity discrimination in the workplace.

Sarah Shilliday, Cherie White and Kelly McAtamney accepted financial settlements before their cases reached an Industrial Tribunal.

 

All three women were helped to pursue their separate claims by The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

Ms Shilliday said her “childcare responsibilities” were discussed when she was interviewed for a management job with RJN Chemicals.

She later received an email from the firm whereby they commented on her suitability for the role but added: “sadly I’m afraid your personal arrangements with the new baby will make it impossible to carry out this role”.  Ms Shilliday’s case was settled for £3,000.

Kelly McAtamney also brought a case against her employer Medi Cosmetics.

Ms McAtamney, who was pregnant and at risk of miscarriage, alleged that her employer would not adjust her duties to accommodate her doctor’s advice that she needed to “stay off her feet” as much as possible.  As a result, Ms McAtamney felt that she had to resign from her job.  She received a £4,500 settlement with no admission of liability.

Cherie White settled a complaint that she had made to her employer, the Irish Football Association (IFA) for £8,000, though without receiving an admission of liability.  She alleged that a number of temporary positions, including posts which had arisen while she was on maternity leave, had been made permanent.  Ms White contended that, but for her being maternity leave, she would have been in a position to be considered for one of the permanent posts

The Equality Commission have stated that pregnancy discrimination was a “persistent problem” and the most “common cause of complaint on the grounds of gender” that they receive.

Discrimination  happens when an employer treats one employee less favourably than others.  It can happen in many instance other than the ones above – for example, if a female employee is being paid less than a male colleague for doing the same job, if an employer fails to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace due to an employee’s disability or if an employee from an ethnic minority community is refused the training opportunities offered to other colleagues.

There are specific laws against some types of discrimination (called ‘unlawful discrimination’). If your employer treats you less favourably for an unlawful reason, you may be able to take action.

IF YOU REQUIRE LEGAL ADVICE RELATING TO DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION OR IF YOU FEEL YOU HAVE BEEN DISCRIMINATED AGAINST BY YOUR EMPLOYER IN ANY OTHER WAY, PLEASE CONTACT US  MGAVIN@FHANNA.CO.UK OR LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS CONFIDENTIALLY BELOW

£30,000 settlement for the McKeever sisters against KFC in sexual harassment case

apple-150579_1280Two sisters, Kirstie and Courtney McKeever, have settled sexual harassment claims against fast food restaurant KFC in Belfast.

Both girls were forced to resign from their jobs at the fast food restaurant on the Boucher Road, Belfast after their complaints to their employer that they were being sexually harassed by a male co-worker did not end his behaviour towards them. 
They alleged that their co-worker touched and pinched them despite being asked to stop doing so, and that he exposed himself and used overtly sexual language towards them.  

The sisters say they reported the incidents to supervisors and managers but his behaviour continued. Courtney spoke of the inaction of her employer on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme:-

“They kept saying they would deal with it, but they never really did. They actually told me at one point that they were going to sack him but they didn’t and it went on for a few months after that.”

The sisters felt that they had no choice but to give up their jobs. They subsequently took a case against Herbel Restaurants, trading as KFC, and received compensation of £14,000 and £16,000 respectively.  The male co-worker against whom the complaints were made was dismissed.

Sexual harassment can occur when your employer, fellow employee of even a third party such as a customer or client behaves in an offensive manner towards you because of your sex.
Sexism, or sex discrimination, can take many forms in the workplace. It can be direct, indirect, deliberate or accidental. For example, it can occur when you are treated differently or less favourably than a member of the opposite sex. It can also occur where you are put at a disadvantage because of your gender due to certain provisions, criteria or practices that your employer has.

Employers who do nothing to stop sex discrimination in their businesses may themselves be held legally responsible for this discrimination.

What should I do if I have been sexually harassed or discriminated against?

If you have been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual discrimination in your workplace, or indeed if you have been discriminated against at work in any way, you should seek legal advice on the procedure that needs to be followed to resolve the matter. If the matter is not resolved satisfactorily by your employer, you may be able to seek compensation through the Industrial Tribunal.

if you would like any further information on this issue, please contact us confidentially using the form below or send an email to MGAVIN@FHANNA.CO.UK

LIFE BITE: Starbucks Employee wins Disability Discrimination case

apple-150579_1280The media reported yesterday that a dyslexic woman accused by her employer Starbucks of falsifying documents  has won a disability discrimination case against her employer.

A Tribunal found Meseret Kumulchew had been discriminated against after making mistakes due to her difficulties with reading, writing and telling the time.

Ms Kumulchew was a supervisor at a Starbucks in Clapham.  One of her job roles was to be responsible for taking the temperature of fridges and water at specific times and entering the results in a duty roster.   After mistakenly entering wrong information on the roster,  she was accused by Starbucks of falsifying documents.

Ms Kumulchew told the Tribunal that she had always made it known to her employer that she was dyslexic and claimed disability discrimination after she was accused of fraud.  The Tribunal found Starbucks had failed to make reasonable adjustments for Ms Kumulchew’s disability and had discriminated against her because of the effects of her dyslexia.   The level of compensation to be awarded to Ms Kumulchew has yet to be decided.

Discrimination happens when an employer treats one employee less favourably than others.  It could happen in a case like Ms  Kumulchew’s or in other instances – for example,  if a female employee is being paid less than a male colleague for doing the same job, or if an employee from a minority ethnic community being refused the training opportunities offered to other colleagues.

There are specific laws against some types of discrimination (called ‘unlawful discrimination’). If your employer treats you less favourably for an unlawful reason, you may be able to take action.

If you require legal advice relating to disability discrimination or if you feel you have been discriminated against by your employer in any other way, please contact us  mgavin@fhanna.co.uk or leave your comments confidentially below

LIFE BITE: Sexism at Work

apple-150579_1280There has been much comment in the media in recent weeks on allegations of sexism in the workplace.   

When Charlotte Proudman, a UK human rights barrister received a LinkedIn message from Alexander Carter-Silk, a senior partner at a law firm, praising her on what he called her ‘stunning’ profile picture, she responded by telling him she found his message offensive and adding that she was using LinkedIn for business purposes, rather than to be  “objectified by sexist men”.

Ms Proudman linked the incident to what she saw as a larger issue of sexual harassment in her profession and posted the comment made onto her Twitter account causing a social media wave of opinion.

In other news this week, Ms Dalal Belghiti, a former City trader, is taking legal action against her former employer, the US investment bank Jefferies, claiming that she was discriminated against on the grounds of her sex and exposed to sexist behaviour on the trading floor which caused her to leave her job.  She is seeking £3.5 million in compensation from her former employer.

What is sex discrimination in the workplace?

Sexism, or sex discrimination, can take many forms in the workplace. It can be direct, indirect, deliberate or accidental. For example, it can occur when you are treated differently or less favourably than a member of the opposite sex. It can also occur where you are put at a disadvantage because of your gender due to certain provisions, criteria or practices that your employer has.

Sexual harassment can occur when your employer, fellow employee of even a third party such as a customer or client behave in an offensive manner towards you because of your sex.

Employers who do nothing to stop sex discrimination in their businesses may themselves be held legally responsible for this discrimination.

What should I do if I have been discriminated against?

If you have been the victim of sexual discrimination in your workplace, or indeed if you have been discriminated against at work in any way, you should seek legal advice on the procedure that needs to be followed to resolve the matter. If the matter is not resolved satisfactorily by your employer, you may be able to seek compensation through the Industrial Tribunal.

As always, if you would like any further information on this issue, please contact us using the form below or send an email to mgavin@fhanna.co.uk