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Disciplining Offensive Staff will Not Prevent Damages Award

COMPANIES are liable to pay compensation for harassment by one employee of another – even if they had no prior warning about the behaviour.

In a case which will be seen as a setback by many employers, a company’s defence that they had done all they could when they learned of sexist comments has been rejected on appeal.

The claimant in Ms C Fox v Ocean City Recruitment Ltd complained that comments were made by her manager about her body. The company investigated and suspended the manager, who denied the allegations.

However, blaming a financial downturn, they went on to dismiss Ms Fox, while allowing the manager back to work because they said there was a lack of evidence to support the complaints.

When Ms Fox brought a Tribunal claim for sex discrimination – that she had been victimised by being let go, because this was connected to the complaint she had made – her version of events was accepted.

However, the Tribunal limited the compensation they paid to her to £5430. They said one reason was that the company had “taken all reasonably practical steps” to prevent further discrimination as soon as it had been reported to them. As the company did not know about the complaints beforehand, it could not have taken any steps beforehand.

Not correct, said the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Only acts which were done before the discrimination took place could be used as a defence, not the steps taken after the event. The original Tribunal, in London, was ordered to reconsider the amount to be paid in compensation.

Fox v Ocean Recruitment is a reminder of the limited defence open to employers in discrimination cases. However, if an employer does provide training or puts policies in place to warn staff that any sexual comments will be regarded as a disciplinary matter, this can be taken into account.

*The Glasgow Law Practice represents both employers and employees in Tribunal cases, and provides advice on employment policies. Contact