Shop worker harassed at workplace but employer not found responsible, WRC rules say

A STORE ASSISTANT was sexually harassed when a supermarket manager exposed himself to her in the workplace and sent her ‘dirty pictures’, the Workplace Relations Commission has determined.

However, he did not find the employer liable on the grounds that he had taken “reasonable measures” to prevent the harassment.

WRC referee Patsy Doyle said she ‘fully accepts’ the woman was sexually harassed on the job after hearing evidence of three separate incidents of sexual harassment from the supermarket manager .

In her findings, Doyle said she believed the complainant when she described that the manager sought her out at work and spoke to her based on sexual overtones.

Doyle said: “I also believe her when she described the lewd acts she witnessed which shocked and disgusted her.”

Doyle detected that there was a “buoyancy” and “easy familiarity” in the working relationship between supermarket manager and store assistant, saying “I have to conclude that there was some consent to the modification of the employment relationship from December 2018”.

However, Doyle concluded that the employer – which owns two supermarkets – could not be held responsible for the sexual harassment.

Doyle said the supermarket group could raise the defense to the worker’s allegation of sexual harassment permitted by the Employment Equality Act when it took reasonable steps to prevent the harassment, to prevent the victim treated differently in the workplace or in the course of employment and to reverse the effects of harassment.

Complainant’s solicitor Catherine McLoone BL claimed her client witnessed a number of lewd acts by the supermarket manager, which she was seeking to stop.

McLoone said his client was uncomfortable working with him and felt humiliated and degraded.

McLoone referred to the supermarket manager’s practice of sending sexually oriented photos and videos to the complainant’s phone, which she did not respond to.

The sales assistant filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment in August 2019 with her employer and the manager was suspended with pay pending the outcome of a thorough investigation.

On December 16, 2019, the result of the investigation was published and out of 13 allegations, 10 were unfounded and three were unconfirmed.

The investigator underlined the insufficient evidence to support the allegations made by the complainant. The complainant rejected the findings of the investigation and the findings of the subsequent appeal.

The supermarket group has launched a new investigation into allegations of sexual harassment after receiving audio recordings of conversations between the supermarket manager and store assistant ‘out of the blue’ in March last year.

The saleswoman had surreptitiously recorded on her mobile phone four conversations between the two from May to August 2019.

Upon receiving the tapes, the store owner said he met with the supermarket manager and explained that more evidence had come to light and he had been suspended.

A new investigator was appointed and terms of reference were in preparation a week later.

The store owner of the small family supermarket group told the WRC he became concerned when he was unable to contact the supermarket manager and contacted his family to ask if everything was okay.

The director – a married man – committed suicide the next day in April last year. Doyle said the man “unfortunately passed away a few weeks later in tragic circumstances” following his suspension.

The store owner told the hearing – which took place over three days in October and January – that the manager did not leave him a personal message before his death.

Doyle said the store assistant brought a separate personal injury case to the High Court in April 2021.

Doyle said that in suspending the supermarket manager last year and calling for a new investigation, the employer “acted responsibly”.

She said that at that time the manager of the supermarket had not worked with his employer for more than 18 months and found that the employer had followed company policy.

In evidence, the saleswoman testified that she and the supermarket manager were friends and that the unwanted behavior began in December 2018.

The store assistant alleged three incidents of sexual harassment at the WRC.

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In March/April 2019, the woman said the supermarket manager exposed himself to her and declared his interest in her at the supermarket office after 10 p.m. when the store was closed.

The woman said she was “flabbergasted” and reminded her of her family and alleged the man had tried to kiss her, and she got scared and screamed out loud to stop.

She said the next day she told the manager of the supermarket that what had happened could not happen again and the manager dismissed it and told her that she would have given in if five more minutes had passed. elapsed. The complainant said she felt useless.

She further alleged that the director began to transfer “dirty images” through messages which quickly disappeared within seconds.

Regarding the second incident, the complainant recalled receiving a picture on social media of a “hard penis” during her dinner break, along with an obscene and suggestive message from the supermarket manager.

In a third incident on May 4, 2019, the woman alleged the manager exposed himself to her and approached her before she sharply reprimanded him and left the store.

She alleged that the manager tried to negotiate sexual favors with her to facilitate her early departure and the complainant told her that he was “crooked”.

Doyle observed that the Complainant struggled to testify and on several occasions broke down and on other occasions showed tremendous anger towards her employer.

In her findings, Doyle found that, based on the testimony of the supermarket owner and the store manager, she found very honest disclosures which they both understood, with some embarrassment that the supermarket manager and the complainant were in a relationship, as they felt it was none of their business and therefore did not probe.

Doyle concluded that the complainant was significantly harmed by where she ended up in August 2019 and concluded, on a balance of probabilities, that she was indeed the subject of labor rumors. work, which greatly upset her.

The saleswoman returned to work at the supermarket in January this year after an extended sick leave.

In her findings, Doyle said the complainant demonstrated “courage and dignity in her return to a supported workplace.”

Doyle said, “I hope the parties in this case can rely on the plaintiff’s return to work and that the plaintiff can readjust to her original hours of work. »