An Post has been ordered to pay a female postal operative €53,560 compensation after a State workplace watchdog found that the worker was sexually harassed in the workplace.
At the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Adjudicator, Hugh Lonsdale has ordered An Post to pay the maximum award of two years pay of €53,560 compensation to Catherine Kelly.
Mr Lonsdale said that he was making the maximum award due to how poorly An Post followed its own Dignity at Work policy both at investigation and appeal stage of Ms Kelly's complaint.
Ms Kelly alleged that she was sexually harassed and that An Post failed to deal with her complaint in accordance with its own procedures and An Post countered that that they did follow their procedures and dealt with the matter accordingly.
However, Mr Lonsdale found that An Post failed in their defence of Ms Kelly's claim and that she "succeeds in her complaint of sexual harassment".
In his ruling, Mr Lonsdale commented that An Post is a large organisation with the resources to ensure their policies are complied with.
He said: "It is unclear why local managers deemed it appropriate to appoint themselves to deal with such a complaint locally, with virtually no reference to HR. Also, I do not understand why HR allowed the person who carried out the initial flawed investigation to participate in the appeal process."
As part of his order, Mr Lonsdale has directed that that all of An Post's supervisory and management staff receive full training in their Dignity At Work – Anti Bullying Policy.
Mr Lonsdale stated: "That training must include full guidance and practical steps in how a complaint should be dealt with…All new supervisors and managers must receive this training as part of their induction programme."
In the case, Ms Kelly - who continues to work with An Post - alleged that she was inappropriately touched by a male colleague, a postal sorter on February 22nd 2022 in the workplace.
Ms Kelly alleged that she was talking to a colleague when the postal sorter came up behind her and put his hand on the inside of her right thigh and moved it down towards her knee.
Ms Kelly alleged that she pushed him away and shouted "I warned you before not to put your hands on me like that."
Ms Kelly alleged that the man responded by saying "what, I only did this" and then proceeded to do the same thing again.
Ms Kelly decided not to report the alleged incident that day.
Ms Kelly alleged that she confronted the postal sorter the following day and he brushed it off.
On February 24th, the postal sorter told her that he had only touched her in a friendly way.
Ms Kelly reported the February 22nd incident to the floor manager who reported it to floor operations.
On February 25th Ms Kelly made her statement and gave a copy to the person in charge of floor operations and asked him for a copy of the company’s Dignity at Work Policy and Ms Kelly alleges that he said he had no idea what it was.
On March 8th, the postal sorter gave a statement of his version of events and merely stated: "I have no knowledge about the alleged incident".
In the middle of May 2022, Ms Kelly was told the investigation was inconclusive. Ms Kelly said that she was never interviewed.
Ms Kelly submitted that the investigation was unsatisfactory, she was forced to continue to work with the man who allegedly sexually assaulted her and to listen to him telling everyone that she had lied and he had been proved innocent.
Ms Kelly moved buildings to try and get away from all the gossiping and submitted that An Post did not follow their own procedures set out in their employee handbook.
Ms Kelly appealed the outcome on June 1st 2022.
As part of the appeal, the postal sorter was interviewed as part of the appeal and he was shown the CCTV footage and he said he did not touch Ms Kelly inappropriately.
The appeal upheld the outcome of the original investigation and found that there was insufficient evidence to confirm that the postal sorter made physical contact with Ms Kelly telling her that "the evidence accumulated in the original investigation, along with the additional statements I have secured, do not corroborate your version of events".
Mr Lonsdale noted that the appeal investigation carried out did involve interviewing Ms Kelly and the postal sorter, but the notes of both interviews do not indicate there was a rigorous discussion of events on February 22nd.
Mr Lonsdale stated that given Ms Kelly's statement and the CCTV footage showing close physical proximity this was clearly a complaint that should have been taken seriously and investigated in accordance with An Post's Dignity at Work, Anti Bullying and Harassment Policy.
Mr Lonsdale stated that there are many deficiencies in the initial investigation and the appeal investigation and found that An Post cannot avail of the defence where an employer can show that it took such steps "as are reasonably practicable" to deal with allegation of sexual harassment.
In its own submission, An Post submitted that the incident on February 22nd 2022 was fully investigated under An Post Dignity at Work Policy.
Reporting by Gordon Deegan