Employment Tribunal finds that female employee given bear hugs sexually harassed (Richardson v Neovia Logistics Services (UK) Ltd and Flex Recruitment Plus Ltd (In Creditors Voluntary Liquidation, ET)
In the case of Mrs L Richardson v Neovia Logistics Services (UK) Ltd and Flex Recruitment Plus Ltd (In Creditors Voluntary Liquidation), the Employment Tribunal held that a female employee had been sexually harassed by a colleague who continually gave her ‘bear hugs’, and that she had been victimised after being ostracised by colleagues at work for complaining about the harassment.
The facts in Richardson v Neovia Logistics Services (UK) Ltd and Flex Recruitment Plus Ltd (In Creditors Voluntary Liquidation)
Mrs Richardson worked for Flex Recruitment Plus Ltd (“Flex”). Flex is an agency that provides agency workers in the transport business.
In 2012 Mrs Richardson’s marriage of 30 years ended in divorce. In February 2015, shortly after she started working for Neovia, she began a relationship with one of the delivery drivers. At about that time Mr Jowett, a Warehouse Operative whose work involved dealing with Mrs Richardson, began to make crude remarks about her partner and her sex life.
In June 2015 Mrs Richardson was involved in a car accident; the result of this was that she found herself having to undertake desk duties, which brought her into more regular contact with Mr Jowett. Mrs Richardson’s relationship with her boyfriend ended in July 2015 but Mr Jowett’s behaviour, including crude sexual remarks, continued; they also became more pointed as time went on. When Mrs Richardson complained or attempted to complain then Mr Jowett became critical of her work, and he would become agitated and shout at her; he would then apologise to her, but when he apologised he would often put his arms round her shoulder or give her a hug. Mrs Richardson began to suspect that he was using his conduct as a pretext to hug her, despite her telling him not to touch or hug her.
Over the months from July 2015 Mrs Richardson found that Mr Jowett’s behaviour in trying to give her a hug or physically touch her increased – for example, he would lean over her to retrieve his telephone, which invaded her personal space. She chose not to make a formal complaint, hoping that he would simply stop the behaviour.
On 6 November 2015 Mr Jowett gave Mrs Richardson a bear hug, and did so again on 13 November 2018 – on the second occasion Mr Jowett slid his hand across Mrs Richardson’s chest and touched her breasts and elbow. Mrs Richardson then told Mr Jowett “you do know this is classed as sexual harassment”.
Mrs Richardson subsequently complained about Mr Jowett’s behaviour, complaining that Mr Jowett repeatedly hugged her and sometimes ‘squeezed her bum”. No action was taken against Mr Jowett, whether formally or informally, but he was informed that a complaint had been made against him by Mrs Richardson. Mr Jowett was surprised and upset about this, and in turn submitted a complaint about Mrs Richarsson.
After Mr Jowett was informed of Mrs Richardson’s complaint he proceeded to ostracize her in the workplace, making jokes about sexually harassing her and continuing to sexually harass her.
On 4 December 2015 Mrs Richardson went to see her GP and was diagnosed with work-related stress; she was prescribed Fluoxetine, an anti-depressant.
On 19 November 2015 Mrs Richardson was due to have an appraisal with Matt Angell. She received a negative appraisal in this meeting, and was surprised and disappointed by this.. Later the same day Mr Jowett angrily approached Mrs Richardson and admonished her for not doing gate passes. It was pointed out to Mr Jowett that gate passes was not Mrs Richardson’s responsibility, but she did this voluntarily sometimes. Mrs Richardson noticed that attitudes toward her in the workplace had changed, and that the male managers appeared to have turned against her.
On 20 November 2015 Mrs Richardson suffered a panic attack and took time off work. She suffered a recurrence of the panic attack on 30 November 2015 and was then told that Mr Jowett was to be moved away from her. Mrs Richardson subsequently reported the sexual harassment to the police.
On 9 December 2015 Mrs Richardson was told that the company had investigated both her complaint against Mr Jowett and his against her. The decision was that Mr Jowett would receive counselling but that otherwise the matter was closed. Mrs Richardson was upset and complained that no action had been taken about the bullying and sexual harassment. She was advised that if she wanted to take the matter any further she should make a formal complaint. Mrs Richardson was subsequently told that if she made a formal complaint Mr Jowett would be suspended from work; however when she made the complaint she found that not only was Mr Jowett in work but that he was working in close proximity to her.
On 18 December 2017 Mrs Richardson was signed off work and did not return to work thereafter.
Mrs Richardson subsequently brought claims for sexual harassment and victimisation in the Employment Tribunal.
The decision of the Employment Tribunal (ET)
The Employment Tribunal found in Mrs Richardson’s favour in both her claims for sexual harassment and victimisation.
The Employment Tribunal found in Mrs Richardson’s favour in her claim for sexual harassment.
The Employment Tribunal also found that Mrs Richardson had been subjected to victimisation – she had submitted various protected acts (including the allegation of sexual harassment on 13 November 2015) and that she had been subjected to the following detriments, including but not limited to: being ostracised by her colleagues; being threatened with suspension; being blamed for ongoing issues at work
Our solicitors’ views on the case of in Richardson v Neovia Logistics Services (UK) Ltd and Flex Recruitment Plus Ltd (In Creditors Voluntary Liquidation)
Chris Hadrill, the partner in the employment department at Redmans, made the following comment on the case: “If an allegation of sexual harassment is made in the workplace then employers should be careful to ensure that a prompt, thorough and fair investigation is carried out into the allegations – a failure to do so may amount to further discrimination or victimisation”.
The decision of the Employment Tribunal in Richardson v Neovia Logistics Services (UK) Ltd and Flex Recruitment Plus Ltd (In Creditors Voluntary Liquidation) can be found here.