17 April 2015: Zero hours worker gets £19,500 for injury to feelings for harassment:
In Southern v Britannia Hotels Ltd reported this week, an employment tribunal awarded £19,500 for injury to feelings to a zero hours worker who was subjected to gender harassment.
Under the Equality Act, ‘harassment’ is unwanted conduct related to a ‘Protected Characteristic’ that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.
Ms Southern was a waitress in a hotel, aged 22, on a zero hours’ contract. She also had mental health issues. Her manager subjected her to harassment over eight months. Ms Southern lodged a complaint but nothing was done and the harassment got worse. Her manager subjected her to inappropriate touching and comments about her personal life.
The tribunal concluded that her manager had harassed Ms Southern and the hotel was vicariously liable for his conduct. The hotel could not rely on the statutory defence to discrimination as it could not show that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the manager from harassing her.
While the harassment was not of the worst type, Ms Southern was very young and vulnerable by reason of her mental health issues. The harassment was made worse because it was an abuse of power by her manager. The Tribunal also took into account the dismissive approach of the hotel to their investigation into her complaint. This aggravating feature was taken into account in awarding injury to feelings at £19,500.
Ms Southern was vulnerable, not only because of her youth and mental health, but because of her status as a zero hours worker. She felt trapped and fearful that her shifts might be reduced if she complained. It may be that in future, tribunals will give more weight to the employment status and security of claimants when considering the extent to which they were vulnerable.
See also injury to feelings
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