employment law

An unwanted kiss is “Strictly” verboten at work

Strictly Come Dancing

Last Monday I watched the evening’s newspaper front pages coming in on Twitter and nearly every one featured the romantic kiss between celebrity Sean(n) Walsh and professional dancer Katya Jones caught by The Sun on what happened to be his girlfriend’s birthday. It was the lead and second lead news on the BBC News website. Seann’s now ex-girlfriend who had been shown in the audience on Saturday evening’s programme was understandably unimpressed and her public response to their public indiscretion is worth seeing as one of the best put downs I’ve seen for some time.

So why am I writing about this on the Employment Solutions blog. Well, there was an interesting case reported this month which cost an employer £24,000 for similar behaviour in work, albeit non-consensual. It’s also interesting because it was one of the cases that was allowed to proceed notwithstanding that the claimant had her claim struck out because she had not paid the claim fee (which was subsequently abolished).

“W” was employed by Lincolns Care Limited from January until June 2015. Her job was to provide support for adults with mental health or learning disabilities in their own homes. On 9 February 2015 she was rostered to work with a colleague, Mr Juan Jose Guera Landazuri for the first time. During her shift Mr Landazuri attempted to kiss her. She thought that it was a “cultural issue” and thought nothing more of it. However, during a further shift on 11 February he stood behind her, while she was working, described her as a “pretty lady” and then tried to kiss her by grabbing her face between his fingers and thumb. He attempted to put his tongue in her mouth. A similar incident happened the following day.

She asked her work colleagues and her employer what to do. Initially she was told that, as she had initially thought, it might be a cultural issue. Later, she was advised that she should kick him between the legs.

The misconduct continued, including him touching her between her shoulder blades, rubbing his hands down her back and feeling her bottom. In April 2015 he touched her breasts and he also asked intrusive questions about her home and sex life.

She complained to her employer. Initially, it was repeated that this was a “cultural manifestation” and that she should simply “push [him] away”. When matters didn’t improve a manager, Mr Hussain, said that he would separate them so that she would not have to work with Mr Landazuri. No disciplinary action was taken against him

W reported the matter to the police. It turned out that Mr Landazuri was a convicted sex offender who had been deported from the UK. The tribunal judgment noted that he had been deported for a second time.

In the Cambridge Employment Tribunal, the employment judge readily accepted that W was sexually harassed by Mr Landazuri and that the employer was vicariously liable for his actions.

In discrimination cases, injury to feelings are assessed on a scale covering minor, medium, very serious and exceptional cases. The current brackets are £800-£8,400, £8,400-£25,200, £25,200-£42,000 and £42,000 plus. In this case W claimed £18,000 (upper middle). The tribunal judge agreed and awarded her £18,000 plus £5,105.09 interest and loss of earning plus interest, making a total of £24,103.09.

While this is a case in which you might think that you would not act in the same way as the employer, it’s important to bear in mind that these types of incidents can be brushed off by middle managers who don’t understand that they simply can’t be ignored. Not only can substantial awards be made, there is also the likelihood of significant reputational damage and the potential loss of important contracts.

As for Strictly, I think that they can look forward to potentially the highest viewing figures ever. I’ll be fascinated to see how they deal with it.