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”Honey” was not sexual harassment

July 2010 - Employment. Legal Developments by Norrbom Vinding Law Firm, member of ius laboris.

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Close physical contact and calling an employee “honey" was not enough to prove that a manager had sexually harassed an employee.

In sexual harassment cases, great weight is given by the courts to whether or not the alleged victim said no or other words to that effect. Another factor that will be considered is how people generally behave and speak to each other in the workplace in question.   Two local authority employees felt harassed by their manager, who they thought was in the habit of seeking close physical contact. One of them did not want to put up with being called ‘honey'. The other claimed that the manager had asked about her sex life in a rather direct manner and cited an incident where he had allegedly taken her aside and unzipped her sweatshirt. When the employees complained to the local authority, the manager was immediately transferred so that he would have no contact with the two employees while the complaint was being investigated.  

The employees brought the matter to the civil Court after resigning from their jobs. They believed that they had been sexually harassed under the Danish Act on Equal Treatment of Men and Women and therefore claimed compensation. In relation to the compensation issue, they claimed that the manager and the local authority were jointly and severally liable because the local authority had not fulfilled its responsibility to provide a comfortable and non-threatening working environment.  

No proof of sexual harassment
The Court found in favour of the manager and the local authority. On the evidence, the Court held that the manager's behaviour was not contrary to the Danish Act on Equal Treatment of Men and Women, although the Court was satisfied that the manager had called one of the employees ‘honey' and often been in close physical contact with her and touched the other employee on several occasions. The other allegations were unfounded, the Court said. The Court gave weight to the fact that the employees had not said to the manager that they did not accept his behaviour and also referred to the relaxed tone in the workplace.

 

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Norrbom Vinding notes:

  • that the case shows that in the assessment of whether a given behaviour qualifies as sexual harassment, the courts will often take into account whether the alleged victim has told the other party that she/he does not like the behaviour, in the same way as the general culture and tone at the workplace in question will usually be a factor.