Two sisters have settled sexual harassment cases for £30,000 against KFC in Northern Ireland.
Kirstie and Courtney McKeever were awarded £14,000 and £16,000 respectively in the case where they alleged they suffered harassment by a male co-worker at Herbel Restaurants (trading as KFC) on the Boucher Road in Belfast.
The women alleged the co-worker, who was dismissed from his post, touched and pinched them despite being asked to stop, and used “overtly sexual language and exposed himself”.
The women said they reported the incidents to supervisors and managers but the behaviour continued. "The McKeever sisters felt that, in the end, they had no choice but to resign their jobs," according to the North's Equality Commission which supported the two women in taking their case.
“I was studying for my A-Levels when I started working in KFC. Initially I enjoyed my job and it was only when I began to work the same shifts as this particular guy that the issues started,” said Kirstie McKeever.
“He would touch my face and pinch me under the arms. It made me feel really uncomfortable and I told him to stop. He also began to ask me inappropriate questions of a sexual nature.
“I asked him to stop it and then complained to supervisors but it continued. His behaviour made me ill and led to me resigning from my job.”
Courtney McKeever said she was really pleased to get the job in KFC.
“I was still at school and it was great to be earning some money. When the guy started nipping me, I told him to stop. Throughout the time I was there he made what I felt were insulting and threatening remarks to me and inappropriate sexual remarks,” she said.
“I complained to supervisors who said they would speak to him but nothing changed. In the end I felt I had to resign from my job. It was a tough time but I’m glad it is all behind me now and I would encourage anyone else facing treatment like this to come forward.”
In settling the case, Herbel Restaurants, trading as KFC, reaffirmed its commitment to equality of opportunity in the workplace and agreed to meet the Equality Commission to review its equal opportunities policies, practices and procedures to ensure they are fully compliant with its legal obligations.
Commission chief executive Dr Evelyn Collins said it was unacceptable that such cases were still happening. "Here were two young women who simply wanted a part-time job to earn some money like so many other teenagers. What should have given these young women useful experience of the workplace instead became an ordeal that caused them great distress," she said.
“All employees are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. When complaints of the type of behaviour described arise, they have to be investigated and dealt with immediately and appropriate action taken.”
Justin Stratton, HR director for Herbel Restaurants said the company “did not tolerate any type of harassment” in its restaurants.
On hearing about the allegations of the McKeever sisters, the company took action resulting in the “dismissal of the employee in question”, he said in a statement after the ruling.
“Whilst the settlement clarified that no blame lies with the company for what happened, and that we took all necessary steps to put things right, we understand that this was a distressing experience for the team members involved, and for that, we’re sorry.”