A former National Grid trainee has been awarded almost £360,000 after she was sexually harassed by her boss.
Tahir, a trainee project supervisor in her mid-twenties at the time of the incident, told an employment tribunal how Higgins (in his 50s) sent frequent texts and emails to her, told her he “fancied” her and wrote “marry me” in an email to her.
On another occasion, Higgins, in his 50s, reportedly asked Tahir if the pair would be “getting it on” if they were closer in age.
Tahir complained about Higgins’ behaviour but, despite an internal investigation by National Grid, he remained in his role.
Tahir would resign from the company in 2021 and subsequently lodged a tribunal appeal on the grounds of sexual harassment, victimisation and constructive wrongful dismissal.
She was awarded £357,000 in compensation, having successfully argued that her treatment during her time at National Grid had derailed her career progress.
Higgins no longer works for the company, the tribunal heard.
National Grid issued a statement following the tribunal decision, in which the firm insisted it would "learn the lessons from this case".
A spokesperson said: “This should never have happened and we apologise unreservedly.
“Following these events, we have taken a number of steps – including comprehensive training – to ensure our people know how to report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and to reiterate in the strongest possible terms the standard of behaviour we expect at all times.
“We are undertaking a full review of the processes we followed, and our priority now is to learn the lessons from this case to ensure that it never happens again.”
The prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace
Recent research uncovered that a fifth of people worldwide (21%) have experienced at least one form of violence and harassment at work in their working lifetime. And while the glass-half-fullers among us will find it reassuring that almost 80% of employees haven’t been subjected to this behaviour, even one in five victims is one too many.
This is especially true when you look further into the research, which found that a majority of those who had experienced violence and harassment at work had experienced it multiple times – 61% in instances of psychological harassment, and 56% and 52% respectively for physical or sexual violence and harassment, highlighting a need for a zero-tolerance approach.
The data features in a new report – Safe at Work? Global experiences of violence and harassment – which is based on the 2021 Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, powered by Gallup. 125,000 people across 121 countries were polled about their experiences of workplace harassment and violence, as well as the nature and frequency of it.
The report also found that, at a global level, men were fractionally more likely to report experience of workplace violence and harassment than women (22% vs 20%), though its nature varies between the sexes. While psychological harassment was found to be the most common form experienced by both men and women, it was found that for a third of women (33%) who had experienced violence or harassment, there was a sexual element (compared with for 15% of men). The survey found that men’s second most common experience was a combination of psychological and physical violence and harassment (accounting for 20% or one in five male experiences), while for women it was sexual violence and harassment.
Employers must be proactive in tackling harassment
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy at Peninsula, points out that ultimately it is the responsibility of all employers to take proactive measures to stamp out sexual harassment in the workplace.
Palmer previously told HR Grapevine: “Sadly, sexual harassment is still a very present issue in many workplaces. In fact, recent research has found that almost three-quarters (72%) of female workers have seen or been subject to inappropriate behaviour from male colleagues in the workplace."
Palmer said that, while a robust policy is the first step in preventing misconduct, organisations should also ensure they have a clear, zero-tolerance attitude towards this behaviour. Similarly, workplace training for managers and workers on how to manage, avoid and report inappropriate actions can go a long way in discouraging all forms of sexual harassment in the workplace, as can providing effective support for affected employees.
Palmer went on: “Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission teamed up with UK Hospitality to publish a new action plan and checklist for employers, to help them stop sexual harassment in the workplace. This was created following research which found that most hospitality workers have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment, and most found it to be a “normal” part of the job in settings where alcohol is consumed.
“Employers in customer-facing sectors should also keep in mind that harassment may come from third parties so take extra steps to minimise the impact this could have on employees. Failure to adequately address inappropriate behaviours and creating a culture which does not facilitate diversity and inclusion can prove detrimental for organisations; those who don’t may risk tribunal claims, high turnover, and reduced productivity.”