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Harrassment case ends in £10,000 payout

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Gossiping or slating colleagues behind their backs might be a common, if unfortunate, workplace occurrence but doing it on email could have serious repercussions, as one employer found out last week.

A woman who discovered nine of her colleagues had circulated offensive emails about her has received £10,000 compensation after settling a sexual harassment case against her former employer.

While working at Holden Meehan Independent Financial Advisers Ltd, the sales support administrator and PA discovered the emails inadvertently after she was given access to a colleague's email folder while he was on extended leave.

She made a formal complaint, but felt she was not treated seriously. Eventually she felt she had no option other than to resign.

"I was really shocked and upset when I came across a series of unpleasant emails about me," said the unnamed woman. "When my complaint didn't seem to be taken seriously I lost confidence in my employer and felt I couldn't carry on working for Holden Meehan."

Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, expressed concern that despite a number of high-profile cases in the media, employers are still failing to get to grips with the dangers of email misuse.

"All employers should make their staff aware that sexual harassment can take many forms and can be deeply distressing for the person on the receiving end," said Mellor.

"The fact that comments are made by email doesn't mean they should be treated any less seriously than if they were spoken or written down."

To ensure they are doing everything possible to discourage staff from using email for such purposes, employers are recommended to have clear polices on both IT use and harassment.

Staff should be made aware of what is allowed and what won't be tolerated. There should also be an official and confidential complaints procedure, and these complaints should be dealt with immediately. ®

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