Springhouse Solicitors

Zero hours worker: £19,500 injury to feelings award

An Employment Tribunal has recently handed down a judgment in a sexual harassment case, where the fact that the employee was on a zero hours contract was relevant to the amount of the award.

Background

Miss Southern was employed by Britannia Hotels as a waitress on a zero hours contract. She was 22 and suffered mental health problems.

She was subjected to a campaign of serious sexual harassment by her manager, Mr Nkorol, which included sexually harassing comments, questions and touching.

Because it had investigated the issues as part of a grievance process on two occasions, Britannia attempted to rely on the statutory defence to discrimination claims such as this, that they had taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent the discrimination.

The Tribunal said that Britannia could not rely on the statutory defence because their investigation and grievance process had been inadequate and flawed, because amongst other things:

The perpetrator had not been suspended, which meant that he was potentially able to influence the investigation.

He had not been disciplined.

The initial investigation was cursory, had not followed up on corroborating evidence, and the second investigation did not put right the faults of the first investigation.

In terms of the injury to feelings award, the Tribunal found that this was not harassment of the worst type, but that Miss Southern was particularly vulnerable because of her age, mental health issues, and, significantly, because she was on a zero hours contract, which made her feel trapped and fearful that her shifts might be reduced if she complained.

Implications

Arguments relating to the vulnerability of workers on zero hours contract are likely to be more and more common, and employers using zero hours contracts will need to take extra care. Likewise, the fact that they are on zero hours contracts will be relevant to any claims raised by employees.

As we approach the May 2015 general election, all parties have policies on zero hours contracts and we have set these out here.