In a case that has sparked a re-evaluation of workplace ethics, a 22-year-old former Lidl employee, Maddie Hunter, has been awarded £50,000 in an employment tribunal for sexual harassment and constructive dismissal. The lawsuit was brought against Lidl due to inappropriate comments made by the branch’s deputy store manager, Michael Harding.
Hunter, an A-level student at the time of her employment, was subject to remarks suggesting she would “look good” in underwear. The manager also expressed a desire to sleep with her and her boyfriend. When Hunter confronted him, stating, “You can’t say that,” he retorted, “You’d better get used to it.”
A Pattern of Harassment
The tribunal, which took place in Reading, revealed that Hunter was not alone in her experience. Male staff at the Wallingford, Oxfordshire branch where she worked had allegedly been ranking female employees based on attractiveness. This culture was pervasive, despite the fact that Lidl claims to have “policies and procedures in place to ensure that colleagues are treated fairly, equally, and respectfully,” according to a spokeswoman for the company.
Hunter began her role in 2019 and claimed that a male colleague moved his till next to hers, making sexual advances during the day shortly thereafter. Requests to change her workstation were denied by management.
Blurred Lines of Responsibility
Hunter’s daily work environment deteriorated further in 2020 when Harding became deputy manager. She alleged that he inappropriately touched her and ignored her pleas for him to stop. The employment tribunal heard that Harding regularly spoke about sexual matters and indicated which colleagues he would like to sleep with. When Hunter formally complained, her concerns were dismissed as the line managers “did not consider that it was their role to police harassment,” as stated by the tribunal.
The spokeswoman for Lidl has committed to “regularly review and enhance training programs” to better tackle issues of conduct in the workplace. But whether these changes will be enough to overhaul a systemic issue remains a subject of debate.
The Workers Union Says…
“In light of the verdict, the tribunal judge, Sarah Matthews, acknowledged that while Harding may not have intended to offend, his actions were unequivocally offensive. This case serves as a watershed moment for corporate responsibility and ethical behaviour in the workplace. Companies must now reflect on their internal cultures, particularly when young and vulnerable workers are involved.”