A bathroom supplies company has been ordered to pay more than £15,000 by Watford Employment Tribunal, after its director called an employee “immature” and fired her for alleging sexual harassment.
Marta Podlecka was employed as a cost estimator by MYM Global between December 2016 and August 2017. She initially worked full time before going part time on three-and-a-half days a week.
Podlecka told the tribunal that, from June 2017, she was subjected to sex discrimination by Moshe Genish, her boss and the owner of the business. Podlecka described how Genish regularly subjected her to sexual comments and touched her inappropriately on the hand on multiple occasions. She said the degree of his behaviour made her feel stressed about being alone with him at work.
Podlecka said she told Genish not to touch her, but added she felt powerless because he was her boss.
The tribunal also heard Podlecka had been subjected to abusive language and derogatory comments about her age and religion from other colleagues. She claimed one colleague in particular – Claudiu Praj – treated her as a secretary and not in the same manner as his male co-workers.
On 8 August 2017, Podlecka spoke informally to Genish about these issues. He raised an informal investigation, but Podlecka felt she had not been sufficiently included in the decision and went home. She submitted a formal grievance the following day, in which she complained primarily about the abusive language she experienced from Praj.
Podlecka received no response to her grievance, but on 11 August Genish dismissed her. He described her conduct as “immature” and said the workplace was “not a kindergarten”. Podlecka was signed off work with stress and anxiety for six weeks following the dismissal, recounting at tribunal that her stress levels had made her physically ill.
Podlecka lodged a tribunal claim against MYM Global in January 2018, on the basis she was dismissed because she raised a formal grievance over her co-worker’s conduct.
MYM Global was due to respond by 28 February, but did not, and also did not appear at tribunal. This led Judge Alliot to hand down a default judgment, which outlined multiple “aggravating features” in the conduct experienced by Podlecka.
“First, [the conduct] was experienced over a period of three months. Second, it involved unwanted sexual advances, as well as abusive and derogatory treatment on a regular basis. Third, it caused physical and mental illness. Fourth, it resulted in her losing her job,” he said.
Speaking to People Management, Kate Palmer, associate director at Peninsula described the case as “clearcut sex discrimination”.
“The level of her compensation is an interesting point because the judge determined that the appropriate injury-to-feelings award fell into the middle Vento band [the tiers of compensation for injury-to-feelings awards] and gave clear reasons for this finding,” she said.
“This included the regularity of the inappropriate behaviour, the timespan it covered and, importantly, the fact that it caused mental and physical illness,” she added. “Employers have to be aware that the vicarious liability provisions in the law open them up to very large injury-to-feelings awards, even when they are not aware that the discriminatory action is taking place.”
MYM Global was ordered to pay Podlecka £10,000 for injury to feelings, with an additional 12.5 per cent for failing to comply with the Acas code and respond to the claim, bringing this element of the award to £11,250. The company was asked to pay more than £15,000 in total, with other elements including notice pay, holiday pay and loss of earnings.
MYM Global could not be reached for comment.