Sexual harassment 1We read with interest a BBC news story about the celebrity chef sexual harassment claim in which top celebrity chef Stephen Terry successfully defended his sexual harassment claim by a junior pastry chef in Wales.

Chloe Maisey had made 21 claims of harassment including having a fish thrown at her.

The defence was that this was normal horseplay in a pressurised environment and not related to her sex.

Cardiff employment tribunal said that the employee “lied or wildly embellished facts”.

The mistakes made by this employer included not providing female changing rooms so that she was forced to change in front of male colleagues. This led allegedly to comments about her body a threat to slap her bottom.

She then tried to link horseplay such as being shut in a walk-in freezer to the sexual harassment.

Fortunately for the employer the tribunal was unconvinced by her employment tribunal claims and found that she lied or wildly embellished facts.

Our comment is that the bar for sex discrimination claims is quite low. An employee need only show that there was conduct which was unwanted and which created an environment that was “intimidating, degrading, hostile, humiliating or offensive” that is linked to her sex (or other protected characteristic). Once a prima facie case is proved, it is for the employer to disprove sexual harassment and proving a negative can be difficult, if not impossible.

The lesson for employers is to provide an environment which is professional at all times. Otherwise you risk providing the prima facie case that opens you up to discrimination claims. This employee had only a few months’ service and hadn’t built up the service required for an unfair dismissal claim.

The other lesson for employers is that if an employee harasses a colleague, you can successfully defend it if you have done the following:

  • Put in place an equality policy
  • Trained staff on it
  • Punished offenders when it is breached

Most employers take the step and overlook the other two.

Hatton James offers training to ensure that staff are aware of equalities legislation and that, together with following your your disciplinary procedures in the case of breaches, gives you the protection of the law should a claim arise and reducing the risk of employment tribunal claims.