Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Employer to pay €27,000 over homophobic discrimination

Out-Law News | 27 Jan 2020 | 4:25 pm | 2 min. read

A business in Ireland has been ordered to pay a former employee €27,000 after the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) found he had been discriminated against based on his sexual orientation and the victim of workplace harassment.

The penalty was imposed on an installation provider by an adjudication officer at the WRC after a former employee brought a complaint about the way he was treated while working for the employer.

Employment law expert Jason McMenamin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the case highlights the need for employers to have clear policies in place to deal with workplace complaints, and effective record keeping procedures.

"While it is essential to have a contract of employment in place, each workplace should also have at the very least polices or procedures in relation to grievances, disciplinary issues, bullying and harassment, equality and health and safety made available to their employees and actively enforce them," McMenamin said.

"Itis paramount that well-drafted policies are properly communicated to staff and put into practice in the workplace. If you have a company intranet network then policies should be made available on this online network in a format that is clear and easy to read. From a risk management perspective it is crucial that an employer is proactive and ensures that its polices are correct from the start and that employees are made aware of where they can be located. Employers should regularly review and amend their policies to ensure that they are in line with any recent changes in legislation and best practice," he said.

"It is also essential that proper records are kept of meetings in line with data protection legislation as they can later be relied upon by employers," McMenamin said.

The former employee brought his case to the WRC, alleging that he was, during his employment, regularly and repeatedly subjected to homophobic abuse, and that he was harassed, victimised and discriminated against on the basis of his sexuality.

According to the WRC's summary of the case, the man initially raised a complaint that was escalated to the employer's operations manager who heard evidence from him and a co-worker and from the alleged perpetrator. However, the man said he was accused by the operations manager of lying and wasting her time. He said his working hours were subsequently cut and that he was "ignored and isolated" by the operations manager up until he left the company. He said nothing further was done to investigate the allegations he had raised, and that the alleged perpetrator was put in a "stronger positon of control" over him.

The man said his mental health had been impacted by the way he had been treated, describing the workplace as "the most hostile he ever worked in".

In considering the case, the adjudication officer formed the opinion that the alleged events complained of were a list of  events that stretched into the past beyond the statutory six-month timeframe for raising a claim for redress in respect of discrimination. However, he determined there was a satisfactory connection between all the incidents complained of and that as a result they could be considered "separate manifestations of the same disposition to discriminate and constitute an ongoing act or continuum of discrimination". This meant the adjudication officer had jurisdiction to examine the case.

The employer stated that the office that the man raising the complaint had worked in had closed down and that it held no records on the allegations or statements from the people cited in the complaint. It acknowledged that the man and the various people mentioned in the case had worked for it at the time but they were not in a position to rebut the allegations raised against it.

Adjudication officer James Kelly found that there had been discrimination against the man on grounds of his sexual orientation and that he had established that he had also been the victim of harassment. He said the man had failed to establish victimisation in the case.

Kelly ordered the employer to pay the victim of discrimination and harassment €27,000, which he said was equivalent to approximately 18 months gross pay "for the sustained distress suffered by him and the effects of the discrimination and harassment on him and his health".