Pizza Hut | Employees were sacked after reporting sexual harassment from bosses, tribunal rules

Employees were sacked after reporting sexual harassment from bosses, tribunal rules

Pizza Hut employees were sacked after raising the alarm about being sexually harassed at work, an employment tribunal ruled.

Kailam Fearn and Sian Murphy, were wrongfully dismissed for speaking out against sexual harassment and discriminatory behavior at two Neath Port Talbot branches of the franchise. 

The tribunal ruled that both employees were unfairly terminated for gross misconduct in June 2021 after raising concerns about two managers, Rhys Stephens and Dean Green.

Ms. Murphy, 28, was subjected to sexual harassment by Neath store manager Rhys Stephens, who made inappropriate comments about her appearance, saying her nipples were “like cut diamonds” when in the branch’s cold store, and also said "she shouldn't bend down like that in front of men" when she bent down to pick something up off the floor.

Stephens also used homophobic slurs against a gay colleague in front of Ms Murphy, the tribunal heard.

Read more from us

The tribunal also heard how Mr. Fearn, 27, was working at the Port Talbot store when he received a Snapchat photo from area manager Dean Green, showing him in the bath watching the store's CCTV, accompanied by inappropriate comments.

Mr Green also told Mr Fearn he had "sexy legs" and solicited a threesome from him.

The franchise owners, Salamaan and Javeria Rasul of S&J Enterprises Wales Ltd, were found to have failed to reprimand the managers. The tribunal further ruled that both Mr. Fearn and Ms. Murphy were not provided with proper employment contracts.

Ms. Murphy was also wrongfully dismissed for gross misconduct based on accusations of stealing, poor performance, and breaching social media policy. 

However, evidence showed that she had paid for the item in question - a bottle of water - and that her performance issues were minor, such as selling an out-of-date salad. The alleged social media policy violations occurred in a private WhatsApp chat, while the company expected staff to use their personal phones for work-related purposes.

Mr. Fearn, upon complaining to Mr. Rasul about his manager’s behaviour, was instead suspended and later dismissed for gross misconduct, with false accusations of stealing food, leaving the store unattended, and using his personal phone. During the tribunal, Mr. Rasul falsely accused Mr. Fearn of encouraging a vulnerable person to sell intimate footage online, leading to Mr. Fearn's suspension from his duties as a special constable during a police investigation that ultimately cleared him.

Tribunal chairman Samantha Moore stated that the false allegations were made in "retaliation" for Mr. Fearn pursuing unfair dismissal claims. The tribunal ruled in favor of both complaints of wrongful dismissal and sexual harassment.

A Pizza Hut UK and Europe spokesperson said: "We are aware of the outcome of the tribunal regarding franchisee S&J Enterprises Wales Limited.

"We take these incidents very seriously and have strict processes in place that we expect all our franchisees to follow, however with the appropriate authorities involved, we will not be commenting further."

Compensation for Mr Fearn and Ms Murphy will be decided at a later date.

Third of workers experience sexually inappropriate behaviour from colleagues but many are too scared to report it, research shows

The Pizza Hut employees showed immense courage to come forward and raise the alarm about their victimisation but, sadly, this isn't always the cause for UK workers.

Sexual harassment and unsolicited behaviour from colleagues is an issue that all good HR leaders will have their eye on, for almost a third of people have experienced sexually inappropriate behaviour at work.

However, HR can’t afford to simply be reactive in these situations. Proactive measures are vital, especially when considering new research which shows that only half of victims feel confident enough to report it to their bosses.

Groping, stroking, inappropriate comments and threats that it would harm their career if they did not return sexual advances were among the unwanted attention received, mostly from senior colleagues.

Victims described feeling violated, intimidated, ashamed, degraded and scared, but many chose to stay silent rather than report it for fear they would be treated negatively as a result.

The research, commissioned by The Barrister Group, reveals the true extent of the toxic cultures that still exist in many workplaces, an issue highlighted by a number of recent celebrity scandals.

The study of over 2,000 UK workers, evenly split by gender, found that 29% had been a victim of sexually inappropriate behaviour from a colleague. Almost one in three women (31%) were affected, compared to one in four men (26%) and 69% said the perpetrator was someone more senior.

Almost half (48%) did not report the matter and of those who did, many said they felt awkward, isolated, were accused of overreacting and, in 12% of cases, forced to find another job.

The main reasons for staying silent included fears that they wouldn’t be believed or taken seriously, and even that they would be blamed.

Dr Anna Loutfi, an employment barrister and part of The Barrister Group, said: “For many of us, the #MeToo movement felt like a watershed moment which started a wider conversation about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour, not just for women and not just at work.

“The fact that sexual harassment is still so prevalent in the workplace is hugely disappointing.

“Recent celebrity scandals may have heightened public awareness of what constitutes inappropriate behaviour, but the reality seems to be that far too many people are still putting up with it for fear that they will be seen as the problem rather than the perpetrator.

“That is fundamentally wrong and must be addressed.”

Read more from us

Worryingly, although most people claimed they knew what constituted inappropriate behaviour, a third didn’t think touching someone’s breasts, slapping their bum or making sexual comments about their appearance was wrong. Women were quicker to call this out than men.

Further, a third (34%) of workers believed their bosses were complicit and happy to look the other way anyway, while a quarter (23%) described their workplace culture as sexist or misogynistic. Less than two-thirds (61%) said their employer had a policy in place to deal with sexually inappropriate behaviour.

Dr Loutfi added: “It is surprising that so many people still don’t recognise that certain behaviours are wrong, and, for the avoidance of doubt, employers should have clear policies in place.

“There is obviously a distinction between what is unlawful and what is inappropriate, but both are unacceptable in the workplace.
“Employers have a legal duty of care and employees have a right to expect that they will not be made to feel uncomfortable, intimidated or violated in the course of their work.

“There needs to be a culture of openness and transparency, where employees feel empowered to report inappropriate behaviour and are confident that when they do they will be supported and the necessary action will be taken.”

You are currently previewing this article.

This is the last preview available to you for 30 days.

To access more news, features, columns and opinions every day, create a free myGrapevine account.