CourtA Christchurch teenager who was sexually harassed and bullied at work has been awarded over $35,000 from the Employment Relations Authority.

The harassment was so bad the 16-year-old would frequently lock himself in the bathroom at work. His doctor said he had mild post-traumatic stress disorder from the ordeal.

He was employed as a labourer by Leeston-based Hyde Engineering in February 2011 after leaving high school.

He was made redundant in March 2012, after the firm said there was not enough work for him, but was re-employed in early May that year when business picked up.

The teen did not want to return to his job at the firm, but was reluctant to tell his parents why.

Unaware of the sexually explicit comments he was fielding at work, they pushed him into the job.

In both periods of his employment there, he was subjected to sexual harassment from his colleagues and boss Kevin Hyde.

“I got a lot of BS from the guys, including Kevin,” he told the ERA.

On one occasion a staff member asked the boy if he would like to give him oral sex.

He was also asked if he was gay, and if his sister would want to have sex with one of the workmates.

His boss told him he was “f*****g lazy and useless.

The comments made were brushed off as “banter”, and came at least twice a week and sometimes up to several times a day.

“At times I told [Hyde] to stop it, but he didn’t  …  He was the boss, and you don’t really talk with that kind of stronger language to the boss.

“Mainly I tried not to pay [attention] to what he was saying. I was just getting on with the work.”

The teen lost his appetite, had trouble sleeping, and developed stress-related stomach problems for the first time. Sometimes before work he would vomit from the stress.

The boss’s comments were more abusive language and behaviour rather than sexual, said ERA member Christine Hickey.

However, she found he was sexually harassed in his employment, and other staff members were involved.

“Such language and behaviour of a sexual nature went beyond the bounds of reasonable banter that could be expected even in the all-male environment of an engineering workshop,” she said.

She also found the teenager was underpaid, receiving only $10.50 an hour, and had not been given an employment agreement.

The ERA ordered Hyde Engineering to pay the 16-year-old employee more than $23,500 in unpaid and lost wages, $12,000 in compensation and costs.

Hyde said he was “shocked” by the allegation and planned to take the ERA’s decision to the Employment Court.

“I’ve employed people for 18 years. I’ve never had anything like this before.”

He said there had been a “bit of workshop banter going on” that he had not known about until after the teenager left the job, but he believed the teenager had been an equal participant.

“Half the stuff he was saying was probably worse than what the other guys were saying to him,” he said.

“We tried to help him out so many times … then it turns into this. I’ll never employ any other workers again because of it.”

Hyde had since let go his remaining three or four workers, sublet his buildings in Leeston and was now working alone.

UPDATE: Teen bid to freeze ex-employers assets fails

An application by the teenager to freeze the assets of the Kevin Hyde Engineering has been turned down by the Employment Court. He had attempted to have the assets frozen to protect his compensation payment for sexual harassment of over $35,000 awarded by the Employment Relations Authority in May 2013.

Judge Couch declined the application saying “there was no evidence that the respondent actually had any assets that might be affected by a freezing order”. He found that evidence suggested that major assets of Hyde’s business, in the form of the land and buildings from which the business was operating, were owned by a family trust and not by the respondent.

He said it also appeared that the business had ceased trading and was in the process of winding up, and he found there was no evidence that the business was profitable.

Although he found there was some evidence to suggest that if there were any funds left over after existing debts had been met, then Hyde might take that money to Australia, the judge held there was no evidence of such an intention.

Judge Couch dismissed the application on the basis that it was not in the interests of justice, saying that it was mainly because there was no reason to believe there were assets of the respondent to which an order could apply.

Kevin Hyde told The Christchurch Press he was still considering his legal options and had met with his solicitor last week.

“The whole story just got blown way out of proportion,” he said.

“It was a lot of banter between him and other work colleagues and wasn’t actually anything to do with me personally and things have just gotten out of hand.

“Any young guy who gets the hump over something very small can effectively do this to anybody.

“He said things like he was hiding in the toilets and behind the workshops because he was being picked on . . . and yet . . . when we’d have drinks after work he’d hang round until 8 o’clock at night so it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

Hyde said the company was still trading, but as a “one-man band”.
“With this sort of stuff I’d never employ an employee again.” He said he had been in business for 18 years and employed more than 30 people, and never had a problem before.

“I’ve had eight apprentices and they’ve all completed their apprenticeships with me and I’ve never had a problem before,” Hyde said.

He said he would decide this week what legal action to take.

Comment

It will be interesting to see if Mr Hyde takes this to the Employment Court. For the ERA to find for the applicant it must have been shown that Mr Hyde would had been made aware of the feelings of his employee and was given opportunity to correct the behaviour and failed to act. Or that he should have been aware of the behaviour given the circumstances.

Unless Mr Hyde can point to a ‘procedural error’ in the  finding of the ERA it seems he is going to be out of luck. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue. Mr Hydes outrage at the grievance brought against his company is obvious, but he is going t need more than emotion to get this overturned.