Costly mistakes for Primark!

A failure to act to protect an employee against persistent bullying and harassment has cost Primark nearly £47.5k, despite the fact that the individual had been employed by them for less than six months. The Tribunal award made against them included a 25% uplift because of the aggravating factors of the case.

The employer did not carry out a proper investigation into the employee’s allegations of discrimination; tell her the outcome of her grievance; or give her the right of appeal. Instead it tried to start an investigation into her absence for stress-related reasons. The Tribunal ruled that Primark did not deal properly with the discrimination or the persistent harassment that the employee had been subjected to, and that she was “bullied out of a job” following her resignation in February 2017.

The recent employment tribunal hearing found that the employee, Alexandra de Souza E Souza, had been severely and persistently bullied by colleagues and a supervisor on the grounds of her gender reassignment. It ruled that Miss de Souza who was been living as a transgender woman for 16 years, had been constructively dismissed, and that her treatment violated her dignity and created an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive” environment in which she was subjected to gender reassignment discrimination. As you may be aware, gender reassignment is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Several incidents were described in including verbal abuse in front of customers with one employee spraying scent on her saying that she smelled like a “men’s toilet” and others including an incident when one colleague told an electrician that he could enter the ladies’ toilets as there were “no ladies in there”, when she knew de Souza was present.

Furthermore the tribunal recommended that should Primark adopt a written policy regarding how to deal with transgender staff or those who wish to undergo gender reassignment, and amend materials it uses for employees’ equality training to include references to transgender discrimination.

This case shows the importance of dealing with incidents of bullying and harassment at a very early stage, so that they do not become “the norm” and that staff understand that bullying and discriminating behaviour will not be tolerated. It could save you an awful lot of money!
Posted on 14 Feb 2018
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