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Mere allegation of harassment may constitute detriment

Mere allegation of harassment may constitute detriment

In Olasehinde v Panther Securities, the EAT held that an allegation by an employer that an employee had harassed a third party constitutes a detriment, where the facts about the complaint were embellished, exaggerated and distorted, even if the employer ultimately takes no further formal action.

The employee, a black man, worked as a caretaker of residential flats. He assisted a female tenant with a furniture delivery and accidentally locked her out. The tenant telephoned the employer to obtain a refund of the locksmith’s charges. During the call she mentioned that she had felt ‘uncomfortable’ while in the employee’s presence.

The employee was called to a meeting and told that the tenant had complained that he was ‘harassing’ her. The basic facts of her allegations put to the employee were consistent with the complaint, but the tribunal found that the employer had seriously embellished, exaggerated and distorted what the tenant had said about the alleged impact on her.

The employee denied the allegations, which the employer accepted. However, the employee was instructed not speak to the tenant about the allegations which had been made by her. The employee was deeply upset and so angered by the accusation that the following day he went and complained to the police but they took no action. He later spoke to the tenant about the allegations and was summarily dismissed for failing to comply with the employer’s express instruction not to speak to her.

The EAT upheld the tribunal’s decision that the claimant had not been wrongfully dismissed, but overturned the decision that the claimant had not suffered a detriment. A ‘detriment’ need not involve any physical or economic consequences: the employee need only show that a reasonable employee would or might take the view that he or she had been disadvantaged in the circumstances in which they had to work. What occurred in this case went beyond a mere insult. Two directors called the employee to a meeting and allegations were put to him which embellished, exaggerated and distorted the tenant’s complaint. As the employer could provide no reasonable explanation for acting in this way, it must constitute a detriment.

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