Harassment - The English Language Evolves and So Must the Workplace
The English language is constantly evolving and words that might once have been considered harmless are now regarded as racist, homophobic and sexist slurs. An Employment Tribunal (ET) powerfully made that point in condemning a manager's persistent description of a female subordinate as a 'good girl' (Fricker v Gartner UK Ltd).
In upholding the sales executive's sexual harassment claim, the ET noted that some phrases, whilst not viewed as taboo, are generally regarded as inappropriate in the workplace. Referring to a woman in her late 30s with a school-age child as a 'girl' was demeaning and could not be viewed as jocular banter. The manager used the word as a means of asserting or reinforcing his authority or power over her.
Describing his behaviour as appalling, the ET found that he persistently mocked the woman's weight and chased her to change her online profile photograph to one he found more sexually attractive. He made unwanted sexual advances towards her, including touching her and trying to kiss her during a client visit. He subjected her to aggressive and shouting behaviour when his advances were rejected.
The ET viewed her employer's suggestion that she was in some way blameworthy as astonishing. On the evidence, it had no discernible commitment to addressing a male-orientated and probably toxic workplace environment. Its statutory defence to the sexual harassment claim was wholly without merit and should never have been advanced. The woman's constructive unfair dismissal claim was also upheld. If not agreed, the amount of her compensation would be assessed at a further hearing.