In Southern v Britannia Hotels Ltd and another, a tribunal has awarded a zero-hours worker a significant award of £19,500 for injury to feelings for harassment on grounds of gender which occurred over an eight-month period. The tribunal found that the harassment was not of the very worst kind, but held that there were factors which justified an award within the top Vento band (which spans £18,000 to £30,000). Specifically, the claimant’s particular vulnerability due to her youth and mental health issues, the abuse of power by her manager who had committed the harassment, and the wholly inadequate investigation conducted by the company.
Although only a first instance decision, this case contains useful reminders for employers. First, in assessing the appropriate level of an injury to feelings award, the tribunal will focus on the effect of the unlawful treatment on the particular claimant in question and not just on the seriousness of the discriminatory conduct. This should be remembered when assessing the value of potential claims. Second, the employer sought to rely on the statutory defence (i.e. it argued that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the behaviour complained of). The decision makes it clear that an employer will not establish this defence simply by having policies in place if all it does is “pay lip service to them”.