Case law updates

Tribunal upholds workplace harassment claim following “atrociously poor” grievance investigation

An Employment Tribunal decision in the case of Beaney v Highways England has highlighted the importance of properly investigating and dealing with complaints of workplace sexual harassment.

The claimant, Kim Beaney was employed by Highways England from April until August 2017 when she resigned and claimed constructive unfair dismissal.

Whilst waiting to hear if she had got the job, the interviewing manager, Grant Bosence send unsolicited text messages to Beaney from his personal mobile having taken her phone number from her application form. Although Beaney responded to the messages, the Tribunal took the view that Bosence had taken an “immediate interest” in her and used his position as her future boss for that purpose. The messages became increasingly inappropriate.

Beaney was successful in getting the job and although assigned initially to another depot, Bosence re-assigned her to a depot where he would be in charge of her. There, a friend of Bosence, who was her immediate line manager, attempted to influence Beaney into entering into a relationship with Bosence. Over a short period, Bosence sent Beaney some 2500 text and Facebook messages. Although Beaney asked him to stop on several occasions, he did not.

When Beaney informed Bosence that she was raise a complaint, Bosence raised a complaint first stating that Beaney had a poor attitude and that she sometimes left work without his consent. The Employment Tribunal believed this was an attempt to show Beaney in a bad light so that her grievance would be dealt with less seriously.

Beaney continued with her grievance, alleging that Bosence had obtained her personal contact details from her application form, that he was messaging her continually, and that she was being harassed.

The manager who investigated Beaney’s grievance did not properly investigate the grievance and instead paid a lot of attention to the early messages passing between Beaney and Bosence where she took part in the exchange. Part of Beaney’s grievance was upheld, but her request to move to another Depot was refused. Beaney went on sick leave and never returned to work.

Beaney appealed the grievance outcome, but her appeal was rejected. The only resolution offered to Beaney was mediation, which she did not pursue. Beaney resigned claiming unfair constructive dismissal as a result of a breakdown of mutual trust and confidence, sexual harassment, direct and indirect sex discrimination.

At the Tribunal Beaney’s claims were upheld. She had been “deliberately placed at a different depot” for the sole purpose of Bosence pursuing a “potential romantic interest”.

The ET also held that the way in which Beaney’s grievance had been handled was “atrociously poor”. The grievance manager had received the grievance papers just five minutes before the grievance meeting took place; he was woefully inexperienced to conduct a grievance of this type; he did not challenge the accounts of Bosence when he suspected he was not telling the truth; and he based his outcome on scant evidence.

Beaney was awarded £74,000 in compensation for the treatment she received.