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Editorial: Harassment in workplace is never acceptable

Considerable progress has been made in stamping out discriminatory practices and behaviour which were once all too common in workplaces in Northern Ireland in the past.

Workers are now quite properly protected under the law and employers have a responsibility to prevent behaviour that makes an employee feel intimidated or offended.

Given the strides that have been made and the policies and procedures that have been well-established in many organisations, it is alarming to learn that a Catholic woman working for a large public sector institution was subjected to appalling sexist and sectarian comments while simply doing her job.

Bronagh Murray from Co Down took a religious and sexual discrimination case against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after retiring due to ill health in 2019.

The civilian worker said she was left humiliated and isolated by comments made by her boss, a British army captain, while she carried out clerical work at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn.

The mother-of-two said the officer repeatedly referenced her religion and made remarks about her alleged voting preferences in front of army personnel.

"When he came into the room I just dreaded it," she told this paper.

Ms Murray has detailed some of the comments made by this officer, including one about her being 'a big cougar', which deeply affected her mental health.

"The thought of him calling me that and laughing about me with others in the officers' mess left me sick,'' she said. "The meaning of that was I was a sexual predator."

In what is believed to be one of the biggest awards of its kind, Ms Murray will receive more than £500,000 in compensation following the decision of a Fair Employment Tribunal this week.

The Ministry of Defence also accepted liability.

However, questions have been raised over the unnamed officer who was at the centre of this case.

We are told he was eventually disciplined and transferred to another military posting, but the fact that he remains employed by the MoD will be regarded as a matter of concern, particularly if he is in a leadership role.

The MoD said it could not make any further comment because 'the process hasn't been completed', but it needs to consider the message that is being sent out by this case.

Harassment in the workplace is simply not acceptable, should that be in a small private business or a large public sector organisation.

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