Key Learnings

This Case highlights the importance of Organisations adopting, implementing and monitoring a comprehensive, effective and accessible policy on sexual harassment and harassment and that Employees are fully aware of and trained in this policy. Although the Employer provided the Staff Handbook to employees with their contract, they did not provide any explanation or training on the various policies, and this was found to be unacceptable. This Case also highlights the importance of carefully considering what witnesses are relevant to be interviewed as part of any investigation. In this Case, while the investigator gave a lot of time to investigating the complaints of the Complainant, it was found to be a defect that the number of witnesses interviewed was not widened, and that this was to a certain extent pre-empting the outcome of the investigation report.


The Complainant commenced employment on the 1 September 2016 as an Administrator with the Respondent; a Golf Club. Her Complaints were taken under the Employment Equality Act and related to Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Penalisation in her workplace. She claimed she was exposed to consistent unwelcome comments, jokes, gestures and contact of the sexual and private nature by the General Manager, which caused her offence and humiliation. She was still in employment on the dates of the hearing but was on certified sick leave since January 2020.

Summary of Complainant’s Case

From December 2016, the Complainant became subjected to a campaign of repeated, regular and ongoing harassment and invasion of her personal privacy by the General Manager, which she described as occurring “more or less daily”. This involved inappropriate comments of a significantly and overtly sexual nature.

She became increasingly uncomfortable and embarrassed with his behaviour and repeatedly made efforts to clarify with the General Manager that his comments, questions, conduct and behaviour was inappropriate and unwelcome.

The Complainant gave direct sworn evidence that the General Manager visited her home uninvited, commented on the presence or otherwise of motor vehicles and persons at home (February 2017), made regular unwelcome comments on her clothing, physical appearance, her hair and offered unwelcome descriptions of his own private life, marital status and intimate behaviour, all of which was unwelcome to the Complainant. The General Manager asked if she was dating and on dating apps. He asked as to the logistics on if she “got lucky and scored” on a night out, how would it work out with her children at home.

The Complainant provided several inappropriate WhatsApp texts and videos of a sexual nature which were sent by the General Manager. They were from a WhatsApp group that comprised the General Manager, the Complainant and a co-worker and also WhatsApp messages sent between the Complainant and the General Manager directly.

The Complainant submitted that this behaviour was sexual harassment and in breach of the Policy on Harassment and Bullying set out in the internal Staff Handbook. The Complainant accepted that she received a Contract of Employment and Staff Handbook but maintained that she had not received any training on the policies or procedures contained in the Handbook.

The Complainant reported this behaviour to the Respondent in accordance with its policy on harassment and despite such complaints having been made, the Respondent took no appropriate or adequate steps to address or remedy same. The Respondent’s Bullying and Harassment Policy referred to making a complaint to the Management committee, but the Complainant had not heard of that Committee.

The Complainant submitted that the Respondent failed to have in place and properly or meaningfully apply appropriate and adequate policies and procedures in respect of the harassment and sexual harassment she endured. Her case was that as the conduct was that of her direct line manager, the circumstances were even more invidious as there was no avenue apparent to her to bring forward either a confidential, informal or formal complaint.

Because of the General Manager’s behaviour, the Complainant suffered from increased anxiety, distress, upset and a loss of mental equanimity and enjoyment of day-to-day living. The Complainant gave evidence that the General Manager’s conduct impacted on her physically. She suffered from headaches, chest palpitations, chest pain, anxiety and stress. She thought she had heart problems. The Complainant was prescribed antidepressants and was still taking them at the time of the hearings.

The Complainant became aware that an anonymous letter was sent to the Respondent on the 26 November 2019 alleging in summary that the “two girls in the office” were subject to sexual harassment. Despite the receipt by the Respondent of the anonymous letter, the Complainant was required to continue working with the General Manager.  She gave evidence that his comments of a sexual connotation continued.

On the 20 December 2019, the Complainant submitted a formal letter of complaint to the Respondent. On the 6 January 2020, the Respondent engaged an external HR firm to investigate her complaints.

The Complainant reported 23 incidents of harassment (including sexual harassment) by the General Manager, dating from October 2016 to November/December 2019. At least 10 of the 23 instances had a sexual connotation. The investigation report issued on the 13 March 2020. Of the 23 complaints, 20 were not upheld and 3 were upheld. These were described as inappropriate behaviour, but not harassment or sexual harassment. The Complainant had substantial issues in relation to the investigation process and the investigator’s findings and the fact that key witnesses were not interviewed.

On 30 March 2020 the Complainant appealed the findings of the report in full and a subcommittee was appointed to deal with same. On 28 April 2020, an appeal officer was appointed to hear the Complainant’s appeal. The Complainant never met the appeal officer. On 11 May 2020 the appeal officer contacted the Complainant with a proposal as to how to resolve her complaints. He gave the Complainant two options namely; (a) return to work, outlining the working conditions that she required and receive an apology from the General Manager or (b) seek a settlement described as a redundancy of approximately eight weeks pay and receive a reference. The Complainant submitted that this proposal amounted to penalisation. In June 2020 the appeal officer issued his final appeal report. The Complainant’s appeal was not upheld. Ultimately no steps were taken against the General Manager. The Complainant was requested to return to work with the General Manager.

On 23 June 2020, the Complainant filed her WRC complaint.

Summary of Respondent’s Case

The Respondent’s case was that at no time between December 2016 and November 2019 had the Complainant notified or complained to the Respondent that she was the victim of the alleged conduct by the General Manager. The Respondent described how it was not until 26 November 2019 following receipt of an anonymous letter from a third party (who was a member of the Respondents Golf club) concerning the General Manager’s conduct, that the Respondent first became aware of the alleged misconduct of the General Manager.

When the Respondent was made aware of the complaints, it acted decisively and expeditiously by appointing an independent and experienced expert who conducted a thorough investigation into the complaints. The Respondent immediately nominated two Council members to meet with the Complainant. The Complainant disclosed for the first time that she had an issue with the General Manager’s behaviour and subsequently made a formal written complaint to the Respondent in December 2019.

The Respondent submitted that the investigation that took place fully complied with fair procedures and concluded with a detailed and comprehensive report which reached findings which were objectively sustainable and in compliance with the law. The Respondent relied on the findings contained in the investigators report and described the content of the report as flawless and stated it could not be criticised as it correctly stated the duties resting on each of the participants as well as the correct interpretation of the relevant law and the correct application of the law to the particular facts of the case.

The Respondent further submitted that the Complainant did not actually discharge the burden resting on her regarding her complaints. The Respondent argued that there was a duty on the Complainant to notify the Respondent and to invoke the Grievance Procedures which were available to her and which she had an openness to invoke.

Findings and Conclusions

The Adjudicator was satisfied that the Complainant had established a prima facie case of sexual harassment.

Despite the findings of the investigators report, the direct evidence presented at the hearings in relation to a number of the Complainant’s complaints were of a sexual nature. As a result, they fall within the definition of sexual harassment under section 14A of the Acts.

In assessing the evidence, the Adjudicator found the Complainants case to be more credible to that of the Respondent and was satisfied that the Complainant was the recipient of offensive comments by the General Manager and that she found the comments offensive and unwelcome.

The Employment Equality Act requires Employers to adopt, implement and monitor a comprehensive, effective and accessible policy on sexual harassment and harassment. This did not occur in this case.

The Respondent claims that they had policies in place and carried out a thorough investigation of the complaints when made to them. Although the Staff Handbook was given to the employees with their contract, the Respondent however did not provide any explanation or training on the various policies and this is not acceptable.

Furthermore, the Adjudicator was not convinced that there was a readily identifiable management committee in the Respondent’s organisation nor were staff familiar with the bullying and harassment policy. This was highlighted by the totally inappropriate Videos and WhatsApp messages that were being exchanged between the staff. None of the people to whom the Complainant raised the behaviour of the General Manager were sufficiently trained to recognise the behaviour as falling under the bullying and harassment policy, nor were they aware of the next steps that needed to be undertaken.

The Adjudicator accepted the criticisms of the investigation. While the investigator gave a lot of time to investigating the complaints of the Complainant, it was found that she was overly cautious and structured in her methodology and it was a defect that she did not widen the number of witnesses she interviewed and this was to a certain extent pre-empting the outcome of her report. The Appeals process was also found to be defective and it was noted that the Appeal Officer went beyond his role.

For the reasons stated, it was found that the Respondent has not established a ‘reasonable practicable’ defence of preventing or addressing the discrimination.


This Complaint is well founded. The Respondent is ordered to pay to the Complainant €25,000 in compensation for the breach of the Employment Equality Acts. On an overall basis, the Adjudicator found that the comments the Complainant had to endure were on the mid-scale of such behaviour and totally unacceptable in the modern workplace.