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In the case of Southern Britannia Hotels Ltd and another, the claimant was a 22 year old waitress with a history of mental health issues working on a zero hours contract in a hotel. The claimant alleged gender related harassment from her line manager who would touch her inappropriately, kiss her neck, make inappropriate comments and ask her personal questions about her sex life. The claimant also alleged bullying from another staff member.

The hotel carried out three sub-standard investigations into the allegations and the claimant eventually took sick leave from work.

The matter progressed to the employment tribunal where the tribunal found in favour of the claimant and found the hotel to be vicariously liable. The claimant received an award totalling £19,500 for injury to feelings. The tribunal thought that the claimant was a consistent and credible witness whilst her line manager was not. They also found that the hotel had not implemented its policies, that the investigations it carried out were flawed and that it was not able to rely on the statutory defence.

The tribunal considered the vulnerability of the claimant when making the award and particularly her young age and her history of mental health issues. The tribunal also commented in the judgment that the claimant felt like she had a lack of security due to her being on a zero hours contract and was afraid to complain as she was worried she may receive less work. This shows that when deciding how vulnerable claimants are, the tribunals may give greater consideration to the claimant’s status of employment.

This case acts as an important reminder for employers to ensure that they handle allegations of discrimination carefully and carry out appropriate investigations into all complaints, even those from workers on zero hours contracts.

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