A Dublin Based company has been ordered to pay a worker €7,000 after graffiti appeared in his workplace with the “highly offensive and deplorable” word “faggot”. At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), the worker, stated that the term is the most degrading term for a gay person. The man told the WRC hearing that there was ongoing harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace. The employee told his bosses of the graffiti on 24 August 2018 and it took a number of days for his bosses to have the graffiti removed. The employee had viewed the graffiti on 24 August and reported this immediately. He said that “it was removed by September 3rd”. He said that “this should have been cleaned off immediately”. Heres what you need to know about dignity and respect in the workplace.
The WRC has made the award after finding that the employee was subject to discrimination and harassment in the workplace. It is the second €7,000 discrimination payout that the Company has been ordered to pay the employee.
This followed the WRC finding in April 2018 which found that the employee was discriminated against on the grounds of race. This arose from an incident in January 2017 where an employee made comments to him in a Chinese-style ‘yingyingyandyang’ talk. The WRC found that the employer didn’t take sufficient action to deal with the incident.
In relation to the August 2018 graffiti incident, WRC Adjudication Officer Kevin Baneham noted that, “while this incident related to the inscription of two words, one word is highly offensive and deplorable”. Baneham said in this case, “there is no doubt the words written on the shelf amounted to harassment” of the employee. He said: It refers to him by his first name. The graffiti uses the deeply offensive term “faggot”, a pejorative reference to sexual orientation. This clearly creates an intimidating and offensive environment.
The WRC found that the employer “had not taken the reasonably practicable steps to prevent harassment” and as of August 2018 it had not provided training to staff. The adjudication said: “Such training would have signalled to employees the seriousness the respondent takes tackling harassment.” Mr. Baneham accepted that the employer sought to find out who had written the graffiti. He accepted that the notices regarding harassment and graffiti were posted in the workplace. A firm delivered ‘Diversity – Dignity at work’ training to staff. The first session took place in October 2018 and a further session will take place in 2019. The firm stated that “on learning of the graffiti, the operations manager reported this immediately to the board of directors, who took it very seriously”. The firm stated that the operations manager apologised to the employee and said that if they found who did the graffiti, they would be able to apply the policy. The firm stated that they looked through CCTV footage but the location was not covered by a camera. The operations manager outlined that he asked for the graffiti to be removed immediately after it being photographed. He was not sure when it was removed. The senior staff member said that the graffiti was unacceptable and should have been removed immediately. The firm outlined that the graffiti was deplorable and it could not, however, define the timeframe of when the graffiti was written.
Bullying and harassment are sensitive areas and can be both daunting and very difficult to deal with. Bullying in the workplace can affect both the safety and the health of employees. Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace.
Under section 8 of the Act the employer is required to “prevent any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk”. Employees have a duty not to engage in improper behaviour which would endanger the health, safety and welfare of themselves or the other employees. The failure to prevent and deal with such situations can have a negative impact on an organisation due to poor work performance, reduced productivity and profits, increased absenteeism and possible exposure to both personal injury claims and WRC claims.
So how can you meet your employer/manager duty of care?
- Policy: Is your policy in place? The purpose of a Dignity and Respect at Work policy is to ensure a working environment that is free from Bullying and Harassment. The Health and Safety Authority has a Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work. This Code sets out guidance notes for you as an employer on dealing with bullying in the workplace. The policy should apply to employees both in the workplace and at work associated events such as meetings, conferences and office parties, whether on or off the premises. The company policy should have an informal and formal procedure in place to deal with the issue of bullying/harassment at work. Any employee who makes a complaint of bullying or harassment should have the option of which procedure they wish to follow.
- Awareness: Communication of the policy is essential. There is no point in having a policy if the employees don’t know about it. The policy can be communicated to employees by way of newsletters, training manuals, training courses, leaflets, websites, emails and placing the policy on notice boards. Are your employees aware of your policy? Is this signed off at induction stage? Are your employees regularly made aware of your policies on a yearly basis?
- Training: Ensure your employees are trained on dignity and respect at work. A short presentation with engagement from team members will suffice. Explain what behaviour is and is not acceptable in your workplace and explain the consequences if any such behaviour is founded. Read through the policy in full so every employees is aware of your thorough policy.
- Management Duty of Care: As the first port of call within the workplace your Managers should be aware of their duty of care as people managers. Managers should have basic training on how to spot bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace, know how to intervene correctly to stop such behaviour and how to remedy the same to conclusion.
- Action: Deal with allegations of work-related bullying, harassment or sexual harassment quickly. Delays and postponements can lead to additional grievances and can exacerbate the initial complaints.
- EAP: Consider implementing an Employee Assistance Programme (“EAP”). An EAP is a confidential service where employees can resolve personal and work-related concerns that can have an effect on their performance in the workplace. The benefit of an EAP is that it can identify problems early and can reduce the negative impact on work performance. A third party counselling service provider usually provides the EAP service.
- Professional Advice: If in doubt seek professional advice. Claims under the WRC relating to equality are publicised with the majority naming both parties.