It was right to dismiss an employee who sent ‘stalkery’ messages to younger female colleagues from his role at His Majesty’s Passport Office, an employment tribunal has found.
A tribunal panel in Newcastle-upon-Tyne heard that the man, identified only as ‘C’ in its judgment, breached his employer’s conduct policies in the way he engaged with two female colleagues, one of whom he had never met.
He also sent a colleague an inappropriate message about a picture he had seen of another colleague’s teenage daughter. He said she looked “peng” and that he’d like to “dust her”. “Dust” is slang for sexual intercourse, while “peng” means attractive.
One of the colleagues, ‘AB’, received inappropriate messages from C for more than a year. In one incident, he left a comment on a picture on her Instagram account that said: “I didn’t know you had pierced nipples you’re a dark horse”. AB believed C must have zoomed in on her breasts in order to make that comment.
Harassment at work
C was also said to have implied AB had a sexually transmitted disease, and on another occasion, it was claimed he said: “You have put your makeup on for me, no need to make an effort”.
Another complainant, ‘IJ’, had never worked with C when he began messaging her on social media. IJ found their exchanges friendly at first but she soon became uncomfortable. It emerged that C knew what car IJ drove, and when she asked how he knew that, C claimed he had driven past her. IJ replied: “bit stalkery”.
Later, IJ was on her way home from work when she noticed a car doing a “wheelspin” out of the car park. The car park IJ used was about a 10-minute walk from the office. Later that evening, C sent her a message that said he hadn’t meant to scare her, and that he had sped away because she called him a stalker. This concerned IJ, who later got a colleague to accompany her to the car park.
IJ reported C to her line manager, who advised IJ to send C a message to say his behaviour was inappropriate and he should stop. IJ did this. C apologised and unfollowed her.
However, around a month later C pulled up beside IJ’s car at traffic lights before speeding off. This was at around 10:30pm. IJ thought it was strange that C was in that area at that time. She reported this to the police, but no action was taken.
A statement from IJ said: “Having someone know so many details about you (my boyfriend’s name, my car, watching me in the office and now – through my own fault – my student address) when I do not know them whatsoever and I have never even bumped into them in the office is a very unnerving feeling. I feel as though I have been watched for God knows how long and it is really unsettling that someone who works at the civil service and should be vetted can make a young woman feel this way when I am simply coming here to get my head down and do work.”
After AB and IJ raised C’s behaviour with their managers their employer, the Home Office, launched an investigation. C raised a grievance alleging that there had been unconscious bias in the interview process, which was dismissed.
C was dismissed from the Passport Office in September 2021. It had concluded his messages were inappropriate and in some cases of a sexual nature, and that the incident in the car park had caused IJ to feel intimidated and concerned for her safety.
C brought claims of race discrimination – he is Asian British – and unfair dismissal.
The race discrimination complaint was dismissed, with the tribunal finding that the organisation’s decision had focused on his communications with AB and IJ, which amounted to gross misconduct, and had not been motivated by race.
The unfair dismissal claim was automatically dismissed because C had not had two years’ continuous employment, despite having worked for another Crown employer, HMRC, prior to the Passport Office. The tribunal found a different employment contract was in place, and that the work, contractual terms, place of work, and hours were entirely different.
However, even If C had been employed for at least two years, the judge found C had been dismissed for a fair reason. It found the Home Office’s investigation had been fair and reasonable.
Employment Judge Seamus Sweeney said: “With regards IJ in particular, as a tribunal, we can readily see and understand why a young woman walking some 10 minutes from her work to her car in the dark, late at night, would have cause for concern when a man that she did not know, who had been sending her unsolicited messages commenting on her appearance and boyfriend, did a wheel spin near her car, then followed this up with a text saying that he did not mean to ‘scare her’ and using the word ‘stalker’ in that context.
“The claimant has, to us, demonstrated a lack of insight into the effects of his own conduct – whatever his intentions. It
is easy to see how an employer would be concerned by such conduct and by such a lack of insight.”
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.