Sexual harassment claim highlights zero hours workers’ vulnerability

zero-hours-sexual-harassment

A zero hours contract worker who feared reporting allegations of sexual harassment by her line manager in case she lost work has been awarded £19,500 for sexual harassment.

In this recent employment tribunal decision highlighting zero hours contract workers’ vulnerable position, the claimant in S v Britannia Hotels Ltd and another worked in a hotel bar on a zero hours contract. She was aged 22 and had a history of mental health problems.

She contended that her line manager frequently touched her and asked her about her sex life.

The claimant was initially reluctant to raise a formal complaint, for fear that her line manager would reduce her hours.

She mentioned the problem informally to another line manager, who advised her to lodge a written complaint. The manager took no further action.

The zero hours contract worker eventually raised a formal grievance after her mother intervened.

She went off work and, after a disciplinary process lasting nearly a year, no further action was taken against her manager.

The employment tribunal, which had no doubt that the claimant’s initial reluctance to complain was because of her zero hours contract status, upheld her sexual harassment claim. She believed that she was reliant on her line manager to give her shifts.

The tribunal, which accepted the claimant’s version of events, awarded her £19,500 for injury to feelings. It was highly critical of the employer’s investigation, particularly its:

  • failure to follow up on the worker’s initial informal complaint;
  • lack of any clear action against the alleged perpetrator; and
  • long delay in completing the investigation.

The tribunal also expressed its surprise that, in a case of this sensitivity, nobody from the employer (apart from its lawyers) attended the tribunal to hear its liability decision.

Sexual harassment

Podcast: Sexual harassment in the workplace Employment law editors Susan Dennehy and Stephen Simpson discuss the key principles protecting employees from sexual harassment in the workplace.

XpertHR principal employment law editor Stephen Simpson said: “This unpleasant case is as good an example as you will see of the inherent unfairness of zero hours contracts.

“Whatever amendments to the fringes of the legislation are made, for example banning exclusivity clauses, it is simply a very difficult thing for a worker on a zero hours contract to complain to their employer, even if the complaints are genuine and of a very serious nature. That’s particularly the case where the alleged wrongdoing is committed by the line manager who sets the worker’s hours.”

Simpson advised: “The meaning of ‘worker’ in the Equality Act 2010 is wide enough to cover workers on zero hours contracts and so they are protected against discrimination.

“Employers should make sure that their line managers treat complaints of discrimination by a zero hours contract worker as they would those made by any other worker, to avoid discrimination claims, and the potentially unlimited tribunal awards that these can entail.”

More details of the flaws in the employer’s investigation into the zero hours contract worker’s complaints and the tribunal’s severe criticism of the employer’s inaction are available on XpertHR.

3 Responses to Sexual harassment claim highlights zero hours workers’ vulnerability

  1. Jude P 15 Apr 2015 at 3:59 pm #

    “Employers should make sure that their line managers treat complaints of discrimination by a zero hours contract worker as they would those made by any other worker, to avoid discrimination claims, and the potentially unlimited tribunal awards that these can entail.”
    I don’t understand this advice from the employer lawyer! This claim was not about discrimination, but about sexual harassment. Why would treating claims from employees on zero hours contracts in the same way as for workers on any other type of contract help the organisation to AVOID discrimination claims????

    • Frank 23 Apr 2015 at 12:32 pm #

      The term “discrimination” is relevant here because complaints about bullying or harassment can only be heard by a tribunal if there is an element of discrimination involved, or if a constructive dismissal complaint can be made (which does not apply in this case as it involved a worker, not an employee). Where the harassment is of a sexual nature, the complaint to a tribunal must be made under the heading of sex discrimination.

  2. Michael Carty 16 Apr 2015 at 12:05 pm #

    Powerful words on “the inherent unfairness of zero hours contracts,” there, Stephen.