Woman asked if she likes eating cats and dogs awarded €8k for harassment at accountancy firm

A woman who was asked by a senior work colleague at an accountancy firm does she like eating cats and dogs as they are the main meat sources of Asians has been awarded €8,000.

Woman asked if she likes eating cats and dogs awarded €8k for harassment at accountancy firm

by Gordon Deegan

A woman who was asked by a senior work colleague at an accountancy firm does she like eating cats and dogs as they are the main meat sources of Asians has been awarded €8,000.

In the case, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ordered the unnamed accounting solutions firm to pay the award after finding that the woman was both sexually harassed and harassed by the senior work colleague and was the victim of discrimination.

WRC Adjudication Officer, Jim Dolan found the woman’s complaint “to be well founded” and has also recommended that the accountancy firm develop a Code of Practice on harassment and discrimination and that staff and management be familiar with its contents.

In the case, the woman documented a series of incidents where she was subjected to harassment by her senior work colleague before she took the decision to resign from her post as her well-being was being adversely affected by staying in the job.

The woman commenced working for the firm in May 2017 and resigned last November.

On one occasion at work on July 27 last year, the woman’s senior colleague asked her: “I heard cats and dogs are the main meat sources of Asians, so do you like eating them?”

The woman told the WRC that she felt disgusted and offended by these words.

Earlier in her employment at the company, the same senior colleague on several occasions took unwelcome ‘Snapchats’ of her during working hours and sent these to his friends.

The woman made it known to the senior colleague that she was not comfortable with this and asked him to stop, he did not appear to care and continued with this ‘Snapchat’ activity.

On one occasion the senior colleague showed the woman the response from one of his friends and the caption on the ‘Snapchat’ response was “cute chink”.

The woman felt very uncomfortable and degraded by this response and felt that the treatment from the senior colleague amounted to discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation and race.

On June 23, whilst in the kitchen at her workplace, the same senior colleague asked the woman what her plans for the weekend were.

She replied that she was going to a nightclub with some friends. The colleague then openly made a comment about “I might look for a girl that night because that could be what I’m into”.

The woman was very upset by that comment and felt embarrassed as there were many other colleagues present in the kitchen at that time.

On the afternoon of Friday, June 30, the day following a social corporate night event – a man knocked on the window of the office and the same senior colleague opened the window to talk to the person outside.

The senior colleague pointed to the woman and told the other person outside the window “that’s the one Stephen shifted last night”.

The episode was the cause of much embarrassment for the woman.

On Friday, July 28, the senior colleague asked the woman how her night out went last night and she informed him that "it was alright".

The senior colleague then responded by saying “because you didn’t get a shift?"

These words left the woman feeling that her dignity had been violated.

After lunch on the same day, the complainant’s reporting manager found the woman crying and asked her to tell her what had her so upset.

At the end of this meeting with the reporting manager the woman was asked to take the weekend to think about how she would like the issue to be handled and to let her know the following Monday.

The following week, the woman’s senior colleagues said that they would handle the issue in an ‘informal’ way and asked the senior colleague to apologise to the woman. The man apologised and the woman accepted his apology.

The woman felt that the atmosphere in the office became more professional after the apology. However, as time passed the woman felt that she no longer belonged to the team at work.

On November 10, the woman handed in her resignation to a more senior partner.

She explained that she felt her wellbeing was being affected by remaining in the workplace.

In its submission to the WRC, the employer stated that the senior colleague in the case was quite surprised that he had upset the complainant.

The firm stated that the complainant was asked if she would be happy with an apology, this appeared to be acceptable and the senior colleague who had been involved apologised.

On the subject of management training in relation to Dignity at Work the employer representative re-stated that all managers are trained on this subject and it is an area that the employer does well.

The firm stated that it has an Employee Assistance Programme in place and the complainant in the case could have used this programme to help herself.

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