Harassment in the workplace can descend into downright cruelty and employers who fail to stamp out such behaviour can expect to pay a heavy reputational and financial price. In a case on point, a sandwich shop worker who endured her line manager's wounding comments received substantial compensation (Reilly v RT Management Bridgeton Ltd).
The woman, who was in her probationary period at the shop, was being treated for a number of medical conditions, which amounted to a disability. Her numerous allergies required her to carry an EpiPen. Prior to her dismissal, she had expressed concern about a number of alleged health and safety breaches at the shop, including what she considered an inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ruling on her case, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that her line manager made disparaging comments concerning her appearance and medical conditions. Amongst other things, he laughed whilst waving food to which she was allergic under her nose and made jokes about her committed veganism. Given the number of medical tests and examinations she was undergoing, he referred to her as a 'science experiment'.
The ET found that the reason or principal reason for her dismissal was that she had made protected disclosures concerning health and safety issues and her entitlement to rest breaks. The line manager's comments amounted to harassment in that they created an intimidating, hostile, humiliating and offensive working environment for her. They related to her protected characteristics, including her disability and her belief in veganism which was an important part of her life and how she lived it.
The ET awarded her £2,092 in respect of her unfair dismissal and £10,000 for injury to her feelings arising from the harassment. Further awards were made in respect of an unauthorised deduction from her wages and her employer's refusal to permit her to exercise her right to an uninterrupted rest break.