Case Study: Sexual Harassment

Our client was in the first year of her employment and had been looking forward to her new career as an architect. She had been made very welcome in the company and everything was going smoothly until the firms Christmas Party. During the party as normal, large quantities of alcohol and high spirits was the order of the evening.

Everyone was having fun but as the evening progressed a male manager started to become “over friendly” paying disrespectful sexual compliments on the clients appearance and figure. She politely moved away but he had stalked her as the evening progressed and at one point, cornered her in a corridor, tried to kiss her and ran his hand up her leg. She pushed him away and left the function. She decided not to complain about the harassment or assault in the belief that the matter would be forgotten. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

Over the following weeks and months the same manager had made implied career threats if “anyone mentioned the Christmas Party business” they would be “out the door”. The client believed that if she left the firm and applied to other companies she would be labelled a trouble maker, that’s if she got an interview. The manager continued to make her feel uncomfortable. In front of colleagues he would be complimentary of her work, taking the opportunity to touch her on the pretext of a supportive hug or a hand on her hip. When they were alone, he never missed an opportunity to lean over her as she sat at her desk on the pretext of examining her work.

At this point, the client stopped her description of events. She paused and then explained her last statement wasn’t exactly truthful. The manager touched her regularly, at every opportunity but that wasn’t the worst part she explained. The worst part is the apprehension whenever he was near. Regardless if he came close or not the thought was always there. Is he going to try again, will he take this opportunity and could she move or leave the room before he made contact. The job that she had looked so forward to had now become a daily trial. In May she was so exhausted by it all that she went off sick but not wanting the dreaded “stress” word on her attendance record, she reported ill with flu.

It was whilst she was off sick that she decided to report the manager for harassment. On her return to work she visited the HR department and made a formal complaint. She was moved to another line manager and the offending manager was interviewed about his actions. The complaint boiled down to her word against his, with him denying any inappropriate behaviour and complaining of the amount of time he had spent mentoring her, as she was finding the work more difficult than her CV had indicated.

The end result was, other than being supervised by a new manager, nothing changed.

Her work was scrutinised more, to support her of course. But the snide comments continued, as well as the threats about her career. The client took and passed her test, confirming the managers’ actions and threats. Armed with the report she again approached the HR department and made a further complaint. The response was completely different on this occasion. Firstly they called our company to seek information and verification of the test. Initially they were sceptical and frankly, still finding the level of evidence against the manager as one against one. Following a very constructive conversation I was able to suggest a method of obtaining supportive evidence which they later implemented and four days after the test the manager was recorded on audio/video in the clients’ office making derogatory remarks about her complaint and the future consequences for her.

The manager has since left the company. He was offered a polygraph test but refused. He did not challenge the evidence.

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