Sexual Harassment and the Importance of a Full and Fair Investigation
The recent reports by Sky News and ITV News about the toxic culture of London Fire Brigade and other fire services set out extreme examples of sexual harassment against women. What seemed to be lacking was any contemporaneous investigation by the employer with appropriate sanctions for the perpetrators.
It is extremely important that allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace are taken seriously by employers and a full and fair investigation is immediately undertaken. This is not only to protect the person complaining of this behaviour but also to enable the alleged perpetrator to defend themselves.
One of our most high profile cases involved a male company director accused of sexually harassing a female employee on various locations around the world, over a three year period.
We helped his co-director conduct a thorough investigation so that a fair grievance process was undertaken which did not uphold her allegations. Much rested on the UK’s legal definition of sexual harassment which is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of violating a worker’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, degrading, humiliating or hostile environment. This had not been fully explored by the employee’s solicitor.
Our client defended her claims in the Employment Tribunal as he was not prepared to pay compensation for something he had not done. The Employment Law Judge found that on the balance of probabilities the Claimant’s allegations were unfounded, having listened to five days of evidence from seven witnesses.
Recently we have been involved with a case where a woman brought allegations of sex discrimination and sexual harassment which resulted in her receiving large amounts of compensation using a Settlement Agreement. Her allegations that there was a “male dominated culture” in the workplace were never investigated. Our client was not questioned neither was a worksite visit initiated by the company that had acquired this UK business. Interviews should have taken place with other staff, particularly women, to find out if this was true.
We are now helping our client bring claims to an Employment Tribunal that he has been treated less favourably than this woman as no interview or workplace investigation took place with him. He is now being blamed for having cost the company a lot of money which might have been unnecessarily paid out, because a proper investigation had not been undertaken.
Our #MeToo Matters campaign offers free advice to all. Whether you are an employer dealing with these type of allegations or an employee who has experienced, witnessed or been unfairly accused of sexual harassment.
We are also running two free training courses, one for employee representatives and Trade Union advisors on Sexual Harassment at Work – How to Support Employees Bringing and Defending Allegations. The other is for Employers on How to Deal Fairly with Allegations of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.
At the heart of our approach is the need for a full and fair investigation, which leaves no stone unturned, in line with The Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures.