A man has been awarded £45,000 compensation after claiming he had been unfairly dismissed for confronting a colleague who had repeatedly subjected him to homophobic abuse.
Martin Sheil was an employee of Stena Line Irish Sea Ferries Ltd in Belfast. He was dismissed after an incident involving him and a colleague, who had allegedly made derogatory remarks about his sexuality.
A tribunal ruled that the dismissal had been unfair, because Stena Line had not sufficiently investigated the allegations of homophobic abuse. Therefore, any mitigating circumstances which may have driven Mr Sheil to over-react when confronting his colleague had not been considered.
The court said that Stena Line had taken “a far too passive approach to unpleasant banter”, which consisted of talk amongst Mr Sheil’s colleagues about his sexuality and remarks made directly to him or indirectly about him in front of other people.
The original compensation figure was reduced by 10%, for Mr Sheil’s responsibility for his dismissal in taking action against his colleague himself rather than reporting the harassment. The figure was reduced by a further 20% for the likelihood that he would have dismissed anyway, regardless of the harassment.
Mr Sheil said: “This has been a difficult period in my life. I worked hard to keep my private life and work life separate. I endured months of abuse in silence.”
Michael Wardlow of the Equality Commission in Northern Ireland added: “Everyone in the workplace – management and staff – must be aware that one person’s banter is another person’s abuse. The company has a duty to protect all staff and to require them to keep verbal abuse out of the workplace.
“Employers must take active steps to ensure that their policies against harassment and discrimination are known, understood and practised by their entire workforce.”
Stena Line have appealed against the decision and the case is listed for hearing in September.
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