A recent Employment Tribunal decision has highlighted the importance of properly investigating and dealing with complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.
The facts of the case
The claimant, Kim Beaney was employed by Highways England as a driver and trainee highways inspector from April until August 2017 when she resigned and claimed constructive unfair dismissal.
On applying for the role, Beaney was extremely keen to get the job and there was an opportunity for her to progress in the organisation.
Following her interview, the interviewing manager, Grant Bosence started to send Beaney unsolicited text messages from his personal mobile phone. Bosence had obtained Beaney’s phone number from her job application form, information he was not permitted to take.
Whilst waiting to hear if she had got the job, Bosence and Beaney messaged each other frequently. Beaney was keeping the conversation going as she keen to improve her chances of getting the job. Bosence however was held to be messaging as he had taken an immediate interest in Beaney.
In messages, Bosence indicated to Beaney that he would be her “boss”, and that he would make the decision on who got the job. This was a key factor for Beaney continuing with the text conversation.
Bosence also added Beaney as a friend on Facebook. In a series of text and Facebook messages, Bosence sent several inappropriate messages to Beaney including photos of himself partially undressed in bed, referring to her as “sexy”, saying that she looked “hot” at interview and making reference to dangerous gangster connections he held, in an attempt to impress Beaney.
Beaney was successful in getting the job and was assigned to work from the Leicester Forest East Depot. However, before she actually started work, Bosence assigned her to the Sandiacre Depot as it meant he would be in charge of her and because he could assign his friend, Steven Curtis as her immediate line manager.
Whilst managing Beaney, Curtis made inappropriate comments such as you “could do worse” than going out with Bosence. It was held that Curtis was attempting to influence Beaney into entering into a relationship with Bosence, something Bosence had intended when he assigned Beaney under Curtis’ immediate supervision.
Over a short period, Bosence had sent Beaney over 2500 text and Facebook messages. Beaney asked Bosence to stop on several occasions, but he did not. Beaney then informed Bosence that she was going to raise a complaint with HR. However, Bosence raised a complaint first stating that Beaney had a poor attitude and that she sometimes left work without his consent. The Employment Tribunal held that this was an attempt by Bosence to show Beaney in a bad light so her grievance would be dealt with less seriously.
Raising a grievance
The next day Beaney raised a grievance against Bosence alleging he had obtained her personal contact details from her application form, that he was messaging her continually, that she was being harassed and that she had issues with working with Curtis.
The manager investigating Beaney’s grievance did not properly investigate the grievance and instead paid a lot of attention to the early messages passing between Beaney and Bosence where she actively took part in the message exchange. Part of Beaney’s grievance was upheld, but her request to move to another Depot was refused. Beaney went on sick leave and never returned to work.
Beaney appealed the grievance outcome, but her appeal was rejected. The only resolution offered to Beaney was mediation, which she did not pursue. Beaney resigned claiming unfair constructive dismissal as a result of a breakdown of mutual trust and confidence, sexual harassment, direct and indirect sex discrimination.
The Employment Tribunal proceedings
After her resignation, Beaney issued proceedings in the Employment Tribunal (“ET”) against Highways England, Bosence and Curtis.
The ET upheld Beaney’s claims, stating that she had been “deliberately placed at a different depot” for the sole purpose of Mr Bosence pursuing a “potential romantic interest”. The ET also held that the way in which Beaney’s grievance had been handled was “atrociously poor”. This was because the grievance manager had only received the grievance papers 5 minutes before the grievance meeting took place, he was woefully inexperienced to conduct a grievance of this type, he had not challenged the accounts of Bosence or Curtis when he suspected they were not telling the truth and he based his outcome on scant evidence.
At a separate remedy hearing, the ET ordered the three Respondents to jointly pay Beaney £74,000 in compensation for the treatment she received.
Beaney’s case illustrates the importance of appointing experienced managers to conduct grievance hearings, to ensure the manager has sufficient time to fully consider the grievance and gather evidence, for witnesses to be challenged where appropriate and for clear guidance to be available to employees on what constitutes improper behaviour in the workplace.