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Charity worker awarded £12,000 after colleague told her she should cook 'because it is woman's work'

Noeleen McAleenon quit her job as support worker for Autism Initiatives NI as a result of sexual harassment, after she had lodged a complaint over her colleague's behaviour. But the organisation failed to inform her that they had disciplined the harasser and she resigned from her job.

Now an industrial tribunal has awarded her £12,293 in recognition of her losses and

injury to feelings. Ms McAleenon, who is from Lisburn, said it was a "horrible experience", but was satisfied by the outcome.

"You have to make a stand because we don't live in the dark ages," she told the Belfast Telegraph. "We cannot be portrayed just as women. "We are human beings and we deserve respect and dignity."

Ms McAleenon and the male co-worker were the only two members of staff on a night shift from January 20 to February 9 last year. She alleged the man sexually harassed her. He later accepted he may have tickled her feet, hugged her and called her 'woman'.

He also admitted telling her to cook as "that is woman's work", commenting on her appearance, asking about her sex life and slapping her bottom. Ms McAleenon lodged a grievance with Autism Initiatives NI outlining incidents of harassment.

The charity interviewed the harasser about the alleged incidents. He admitted that he had touched Ms McAleenon and made comments to her, and, while he claimed it was done "in fun", he accepted that some behaviour was inappropriate.

Autism Initiatives NI issued him with a 12-month written warning – but crucially this reprimand was not notified to Ms McAleenon.

Unaware of the outcome of the disciplinary action, she tendered her resignation. The tribunal found there was a fundamental breach of contract which was sufficiently serious to justify her decision.  Ms McAleenon said the saga caused her great distress.

"I felt violated, degraded and very stressed," she added.  Ms McAleenon's case was supported by the Equality Commission.

Its director of legal services, Anne McKernan, said: "This case should remind all employers how important it is to ensure that their policies are actually being implemented."  A spokesman for Autism Initiatives said that the charity "accepts the decision and apologises for any distress that may have been caused".  "We will study the [tribunal's] findings and welcome advice and support from the Equality Commission," he added.  "Where necessary we will implement any further changes to our processes, ensuring we comply with all aspects of employment legislation."

Report from Belfast Telegraph


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