Firm ordered to pay €30,000 to catering assistant whose bottom was pinched

Female worker was ‘sniffed at’ and experienced ‘constant unwanted touching’ from senior male colleague

“Disrespect and humiliation have a stifling effect,” according to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer who made the award. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

“Disrespect and humiliation have a stifling effect,” according to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer who made the award. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A facilities firm has been ordered to pay €30,000 to a catering assistant who had her bottom pinched by a chef/manager in a series of sexual harassment incidents involving the senior colleague.

Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Catherine Byrne said that as “an instance of sexual harassment, a pinch on the bottom may not be at the extreme end of the scale, but it is well within the definition of unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature”.

“It was also at the end of a continuum of incidents including a punch in the ribs, being sniffed at, constant unwanted touching and making offensive sexual remarks about the complainant to her husband,” she said.

The award represents 18 months of pay to the Polish woman who made a complaint of sexual harassment to her employer concerning the pinch on the day of the incident, February 1st, 2018. The woman was working with a company that provides catering services at the offices of a Government department.

She stated the chef/manager pinched her bottom as she took a trolley from him to collect items from the restaurant service area. The worker told the WRC that she stopped and pointed her finger at the chef/manager and said “I don’t want that”. She said the chef/manager laughed and said ‘sorry’.

The chef/manager denied pinching the woman’s bottom and instead claimed he had a sanitiser bottle in his hand and that the bottle brushed against the woman. This was accepted by the employer after an investigation which also found that it accepted the chef/manager’s explanations regarding other issues raised by the woman and the extended team “to be reasonably credible”.

Compounded

In making her decision, Ms Byrne said “the effect of the sexual harassment suffered by the complainant was compounded by the failure of the respondent to give any credence to her evidence and I find that, of itself, this demonstrated a lack of respect for her”.

She said she was also satisfied that, at all times, the complainant was unequivocal in her objection to the chef/manager’s “unwanted and unacceptable behaviour”. The woman, who was earning €391 per week, told the WRC that the pinch was the most recent incident in a pattern of behaviour that involved the chef/manager inappropriately touching her.

Ms Byrne also believed that the sniffing at the female worker by the chef/manager “and commenting on how she smelled did take place and that this conduct was harassment and sexual in nature”.

She stated that in his own evidence the chef/manager said that he referred to another staff member as “sexy Susan,” he called the complainant’s husband a “faggot” and he went about smelling people.

Ms Byrne stated that the worker at date of hearing had not returned to work due to work-related stress.

The firm was critical of the fact that the catering assistant did not inform the HR department early on that she was having a difficulty with the chef/manager.

“The suggestion here is that, because she didn’t complain at the start, his conduct may not have been all that bad,” Ms Byrne said.

“I reject this defence entirely. Disrespect and humiliation have a stifling effect and it is well-known that victims of sexual harassment can wait a very long time to let anyone know they are being mistreated.”