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National Grid trainee wins £360,000 in sexual harassment tribunal

A trainee for National Grid has been awarded almost £360,000 after it was found that her manager sexually harassed her.

The tribunal heard that manager Colin Higgins frequently texted and emailed Emma Tahir, a trainee project supervisor almost 30 years younger than him, repeatedly asked her to remove her jumper and encroached on her physically.

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The utilities company held an internal investigation into the allegations, but Higgins was allowed to remain in his job.

Following this, in 2021, Tahir resigned and brought a tribunal claim for sexual harassment, victimisation and constructive wrongful dismissal.

Speaking to HR magazine, Tahir said: “All I ever wanted was to do my job without feeling uncomfortable. I absolutely loved working in construction and I am devastated by the impact this has had, and will continue to have on my career prospects.

"Due to my experience, I have failed to complete my training and am now struggling to secure a job with another company. While this continues to have a huge impact on my life, I hope that speaking out about my experience will shine a light on the work that still needs to be done and encourage others who have gone through something similar to step forward.”

She claimed her experience with the manager damaged her career path and the tribunal awarded her £357,000.

Regarding compensation, judge Joanna Wade said the award included £40,000 for injury to feelings and £10,000 for psychiatric injury. 

Daniel Zona, an associate at law firm Collyer Bristow, said employers need to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “This involves ensuring employees have appropriate, meaningful and regular training on what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. 

“It also means employers must have adequate policies and procedures in place to both prevent discrimination and harassment and, where it does happen, to investigate complaints and discipline wrongdoers.”

Zona said this case emphasises the importance of thorough and fair internal investigations.

He said: “It is often best practice for investigations into sexual harassment to be conducted as swiftly as possible. When conducting investigations into complaints of sexual harassment, employers must assess the needs and rights of both the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator. 

“If the employer needs to take interim measures to protect the alleged victim from the alleged perpetrator, or to suspend the alleged perpetrator, it must do so in a considered and proportionate manner and ensure it has a legitimate justification for doing so.”

Zona said if employers are dealing with incidents of sexual harassment they should examine their company culture.

He added: “Discrimination and harassment often occurs where a poor workplace culture allows it, or overlooks it. Working to improve workplace culture can often help reduce instances of discrimination and harassment and help improve the experience of women and minorities generally.

“Dealing with an instance of discrimination and harassment, sexual or otherwise, in a swift and robust manner (whilst also bearing in mind the rights of the accused during any investigation) is often one of the best ways to discourage such behaviour more generally.”