In light of the global #metoo movement and the revelations in relation to Harvey Weinstein, the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace is continuing to come to the fore in 2018. The Workplace Relations Commission (the “WRC”) is having to deal with such cases too, and heard a recent case relating to the sexual harassment of the receptionist of a car parts company.

The WRC ordered the respondent to pay the complainant €46,000. This award amounted to two years’ salary, even more notable as this was the maximum award available.

The complainant argued that she had been sexually harassed by Mr A, her boss, on a number of occasions. This included at the work Christmas party when he made unwanted advances and touched her inappropriately. Subsequently, she found lewd comments being made about her on a live chat which the company operated, and the comments were made under the Managing Director’s name. She further stated that she was dismissed from employment further to rejecting the advances of Mr A.

The respondent however contended that there had been no sexual harassment and argued that she was dismissed because there were issues with her work during her six month probationary period. The MD also denied that he had made the comment on the chat, although it was accepted that the comment about the complainant was there.

The Adjudication Officer (“AO”) was critical of the respondent’s handling of the comments on the live chat, particularly as he did not investigate who made the comment and nor did he remove the comment from the chat. She went on to describe Mr A as having a ‘blasé attitude to a very serious incident of sexual harassment’.

The AO was also scathing at the suggestion that the respondent had an anti-harassment policy, outlining that she was not convinced such policies were in place. The AO further found that the respondent’s contention that the employee was dismissed for poor performance was not the case and that she had been dismissed for rejecting Mr A’s advances.

This case serves to highlight the importance of taking allegations of sexual harassment seriously, and having the adequate policies in place to deal with them. In the absence of this, it can lead to costly awards against employers.