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I dreaded going to work - Kate's story

young worker (dancer)
"When I was 17 I got a job at a furniture shop. I was enjoying it to start with, I made friends and was good at the work. It was commission only, so on a good day I made loads of money but other days I made nothing. Most of the other people there were guys and there was a lot of laddish banter going on. It all started to go wrong when my line manager tried it on with me. He backed off when I told him I had a boyfriend, but everyone found out about it and the guys started being really rude about me. It got really out of hand, I started to dread going in to work. One day it got so bad that I just walked out. I didn't get my last months' wages because they said I hadn't given my notice. I was just glad it was all over."
Kate, Manchester

What happened to Kate shows how things at work can sometimes turn really nasty. Like Kate, we often put up with unfair treatment at work because we don't realise that we have legal rights to protect us.

What rights did Kate have?

  • She should not have been paid on commission only; it is illegal not to pay workers a minimum hourly rate.
  • The line manager should not be 'trying it on' with workers - that is sexual harassment. The 'banter' could be sexual harassment too, for example if it was about sex or women.
  • The insults Kate had to put up with amount to bullying and more sexual harassment.
  • Even though Kate didn't give proper notice, her employers should not have withheld her pay - they should have paid her for work she had done up to the point where she walked out.

What should Kate have done?

It's understandable that Kate just wanted to get out of the situation, but if she knew her rights, Kate could have taken other steps to deal with the problem.

  • She could have tried raising her concerns with her employer. Clearly it would have been difficult talking to her line manager, but she could have spoken to his boss, or someone higher up. This might have put a stop to it.
  • If not, she could have considered making a formal complaint.
  • If her work still hadn't put a stop to the problem, she should have got legal advice from someone with experience in this area. For example, an employment expert at her local Citizen's Advice Bureau, law centre, or advice agency.

If her employer didn't sort out the harassment and give her the money she was owed she could have taken them to an employment tribunal.

She would probably have got some compensation from her employer.

Read more about your rights at work in one of our special features - Young Workers, Dealing with discrimination at work, and Discrimination at work

December 2011

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