A Lidl employee has won £50,000 in a sexual harassment tribunal after it was found she was subjected to persistent inappropriate comments from her manager, including him saying he wanted to sleep with her and her boyfriend.
Maddie Hunter, a student who was 18 when she joined the supermarket in 2019, said she encountered a “culture of harassment” where she would repeatedly experience sexual advances from male members of staff.
The tribunal heard that the store’s Deputy Manager, Michael Harding, purposefully took breaks at the same time as Hunter and would insist on them sharing food.
Hunter also claims that Harding would frequently touch her bottom, thighs and waist and attempt to hug her on a regular basis.
The panel heard that Harding would make regular sexual comments, expressing “who he would rather sleep with”, “what they could do” as well as crass remarks such as “bet they're good at giving h*ad”.
Hunter also claims that Harding, a gay man, made a comment to her directly about how he wanted to sleep with her and her boyfriend, an act Harding denies.
Harding admitted to hugging Hunter when meeting her outside of work and telling her he finds her boyfriend attractive.
He also admitted to saying to Hunter that she “would look good in this” when holding up knickers in the Lidl warehouse. Comments he insisted were intended to “lighten the atmosphere” as they were “workplace banter”.
Prior to these incidents, at the start of her contract, Hunter said that a different male colleague moved next to her checkout till and persistently asked for her number and made sexual advances. When she reported this incident to a manager, she was told to “take it as a compliment”.
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The same happened when Hunter made a complaint about Harding to Lidl’s store manager, as she claims the manager laughed and said he was “not surprised” by this behaviour.
Following this, Harding made two separate requests to be transferred to a different store with a female manager but was told there wasn’t one close by.
It wasn’t until June 2021, that Hunter resigned after being told she needed a performance discussion with a manager for being late, despite having only been late twice in a 17-month period.
Yet, Harding denies many of the allegations saying they were not in his character and “very unlikely”.
When scrutinised over allegations that he told Hunter she was “distracting” others in her uniform, he denied this on the grounds of being a gay man.
The judge ruled that Hunter did not intend to cause offense, but much of his behaviour was still considered a form of sexual harassment.
The tribunal awarded Hunter £50,884 in compensation for harassment and constructive dismissal.
‘Banter’ in the workplace
The excuse of bad behaviour being ‘banter’ is seen often in tribunals. To avoid harassment and bullying claims, employers need to make sure that their workforce know where to draw the line when making jokes. In this sense, clear boundaries are necessary in the workplace.
Lisa Coleman, Senior Associate at GQ|Littler said: “Whilst humour in the workplace should be encouraged, employers should be taking active steps to foster a respectful and inclusive environment with clear boundaries.”
“It is often the case that what one person finds funny another might find offensive. However, to try and stay on the right side of the line, people should be mindful to keep jokes to those they are comfortable repeating and explaining if questioned about them, and avoid those which cross into offensive territory, especially those which relate to protected characteristics.”