The female security guard expected a proper investigation and report on the sexual harassment at work claim. Photo / Thinkstock
A female security guard has been awarded $24,000 in compensation after she claimed a colleague sexually harassed her.
The woman said the man physically restrained her, stalked her on social media and told her he would follow her home and watch her sleep.
The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) upheld the woman’s personal grievance claim of unjustifiable action, agreeing her employer did not deal with her sexual harassment complaint fully.
The ERA suppressed the names of the woman, the male security guard and the workplace to protect the woman.
The woman started working for the security company on January 11, 2019, and for the first five weeks of her employment she worked at the same bar in central Christchurch.
The sexual harassment started in February 2019, the woman said, and was verbal, consisting of unwanted and unacceptable sexual comments.
She tried ignoring the harassment and avoiding the colleague but the harassment only got worse, she said.
It escalated to the point where she was so anxious around the man she started having panic attacks and was increasingly concerned about what he might do.
The ERA found the man was “brazen in his behaviour and unrepentant, he did not stop the behaviour when asked”. It was found he stalked the woman on social media and told her he was doing this.
He said he would follow her home and watch her sleep, and there had been one incident at work where the man had physically restrained her against her will.
After hiding in her car one night to avoid the man, the woman approached another colleague, who encouraged her to go to their team leader.
The team leader immediately changed the woman’s shifts so she was no longer working with the man. The business owner was also informed.
The owner sent a message to the woman asking to meet so he could find out what was going on.
She messaged back saying she was scared to say anything at first because she didn’t know how it would “be handled”.
She said she had been sexually harassed and it had “gotten to the point where I’m scared and uncomfortable to be around him”.
“He just turned up to [the bar] and I got the worse [sic] anxiety and had to go in my
car until he had left.”
The owner gave assurance the woman would be kept safe at work.
The pair met in early April 2019 and the owner said he was meeting the company lawyer to discuss what steps to take.
The colleague was told he was not to go to the bar when the woman was working and she was not rostered on with him.
On April 23, 2019, the woman messaged the owner to say the colleague had been trawling her Facebook account.
She told the owner she was worried about this and said, “I really don’t understand what’s going through his head, it’s like he’s trying to either intimidate me or something … I really don’t know what to do anymore.”
In reply, the owner said he had told the colleague to leave the woman alone and that his behaviour could be considered serious misconduct.
From April until July there were various meetings and messages and the business owner told the woman he would investigate and report back to her.
He said he would speak to the lawyer about the next steps and asked the woman what her expectations were.
She reiterated she felt intimidated and said “I don’t think he should be working in this industry in the type of workplace he is because of the harassment. It’s not something that should be taken lightly because of the extent of it and how confident he was doing it … “
The owner asked for a timeline of evidence so he could progress it to the next level and the woman provided a document outlining the harassment.
At one stage in April, the woman had not heard anything back from the owner and decided to go to the police to record the events.
She told the owner she was doing this and he asked for any documents, presumably any report from the Police, so he could add it to his investigation.
A month later the woman received a message from another manager at the company that said the matter was still under investigation and “you need to let us deal
The manager continued: “Personal issues don’t come to work and affect a professional environment because then it gets ugly.
“Just don’t let whatever kind of issue this is interfering with our business operations please, we’ve worked too hard to build a professional reputation I get on edge when it’s being damaged.”
On May 10, Police called the woman to say her complaint was a work issue and needed to be dealt with at work.
The call sparked a panic attack and the woman called her father. Her father called the owner of the business and complained about the lack of action and support.
This prompted the owner to apologise to the woman. He also said the harassment wasn’t happening at work so it was “a police issue now”.
He offered to go to the police station with the woman but then never confirmed a time.
The woman’s father then contacted the owner again and said nothing had been done.
The father had heard the colleague accused of sexual harassment had been telling others at work everything was made up.
The father asked: “What are your steps to getting this solved or have you lied to me and swept it under the carpet …”
The ERA found that despite meetings and messages, the company had not completed the investigation into sexual harassment.
The woman had trusted that the owner would resolve the complaint. She hadn’t received a report and no outcome had been reported to her.
The ERA found the woman’s claim for personal grievance was not that the company had failed to protect her but that it failed to deal with the sexual harassment complaint appropriately.
It found the woman was disadvantaged at work because she felt unsafe.
The owner told the ERA he thought the matter had been dealt with as the male security guard had stopped contacting the woman.
The ERA did not accept this and said it was clear there needed to be a formal investigation and response.
“By not investigating and undertaking disciplinary action … (the business owner) condoned (the man’s) behaviour and it minimised what occurred and the impact on (the woman) and it ignored the risk of further harassment.”
The woman was awarded $24,000 compensation for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.