Call centre employee sacked for turning boss down

Liver Bird

Elizabeth Cowhig, a 22-year-old former call centre employee (now living in Ormskirk in Lancashire), has won £13,000 in damages from a former employer in Liverpool. She claimed her manager made a number of sexual advances, and after she spurned them, she was fired.

So what can you do if your boss makes an inappropriate move?
According to the Liverpool Echo, Cowhig told an employment tribunal that while she was working at Digital Maintenance, in Kirkby, Liverpool, her sales manager had rubbed her shoulders, kissed her forehead, slapped her bottom and invited her to his hotel room.

She added that he had made inappropriate comments, telling her she had 'the best legs' in the company and calling her sexy. And she said she had been sacked for rejecting him. Her manager, Owen Kennard, of Salerno Drive in Huyton, said he had never made sexual remarks or touched his employees. He insisted that Cowhig had been sacked over poor performance.

The tribunal judge found in her favour, and awarded her £13,000 in damages. Employment Judge Dawn Shotter sat with a panel on this case. In a written judgement the panel said: "On the balance of probability the tribunal is satisfied that Mr Kennard took the decision to dismiss the claimant because she had refused to accede to his sexual attention and had made it clear to him that it was unwanted."

What can you do?

In this instance Cowhig told the Daily Mail that "I feel relieved that it is all over. It was difficult and emotional going to court but I want my example to be used to encourage other women to come forward and complain." So what are your rights?

The law specifically protects you against sexual harassment at work. This encompasses a wide range of things from unwelcome sexual comments to touching, leering, displaying offensive material or sending offensive emails. You are protected regardless of whether it's a one-off or ongoing harassment. And the person harassing you doesn't have to be aware of what they are doing in order to be committing an offence.

If you are being harassed at work, the Citizens Advice Bureaux say that if possible your first approach should be directly to the person concerned, and you should tell them to stop. You may want a colleague or someone from the trades union with you for support.

You should also tell your manager what is happening - in writing (and keep a copy). And you should inform the HR department and your trade union, so that you can get all possible help from those around you.

If you don't see any action from your employer, you can raise an official complaint - using the company's grievance procedure.

If this does not bring an end to the problem, and you want to take action, you may need to get advice. In the first instance you can approach the CAB, but you are likely to need help from an employment lawyer. In the final analysis, you can go to an employment tribunal and seek damages.

In the interim, you should collect evidence. Keep a diary of incidents and what was said or done. If there were witnesses make a note of those who saw what went on.

For many people as soon as things get official, the stress of the process becomes too much, and to avoid the confrontation and delay of a tribunal, they will look for a job elsewhere. This is the option many people take if they can, and there is no shame in moving on if you are able to. However, if you want to stand and fight, the law is on your side.

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