A former BT employee has been awarded £289,877 at the Leeds Employment Tribunal - the highest Tribunal award of the last 12 months.
The £20,000-a-year sales executive claimed that she had been sexually harassed by her former manager and that this led to her to resign in August 2009.
In July 2008 BT bought over a telesales business which then operated as BT Customer Street. The manager in question was transferred to BT with the business and brought with him a management style characterised by the Tribunal as bullying, offensive, obscene, homophobic and racist.
The claimant complained to BT in October 2008 but it took managers an incredible four months to deal with the complaint, during which time the manager’s unacceptable behaviour continued unabated. In its damning judgment, the Tribunal said that 'if those problems had been properly addressed by BT at that time the conduct would not have continued and this claim would never have been brought.' Eventually BT asked the manager to apologise and pressurised the claimant to accept the apology.
The claimant resigned in 2009 when nothing more was done to deal with the situation. While the company had followed its grievance procedure in dealing with the complaint, the Tribunal described the response as “woeful”. Although the manager was eventually dismissed when the claimant brought her case to Tribunal, BT were heavily penalised for their inadequate response.
The employee alleged that the sexual harassment had affected her mental health and that she would not be able to work in a high-pressured sales environment again. The Tribunal accepted that she would never attain the same level of earnings as she had before her resignation and awarded her £165,692 for future loss of earnings, £20,000 for personal injury, £18,000 for hurt feelings and £3,000 for aggravated damages.
This case serves as a reminder to employers that they can be found liable for their employees’ actions, even where they follow procedures in dealing with grievances. Employers that find themselves in a similar situation must do all that is reasonably practicable to distance themselves from the employee’s behaviour - including dealing with complaints efficiently and effectively and implementing training to avoid situations arising in the future.