An employment tribunal in East London has found in favour of an employee when she claimed sexual harassment. The tribunal found that the employee experienced unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which created an intimidating, hostile and humiliating environment for the claimant.
Of particular concern, and a point that employers generally can learn from this case, is that the employer failed to carry out a proper and thorough investigation into the complaints, nor did it respond to them. Having robust policies in place and training staff are key steps, but what should employers do when faced with complaints of this nature? Here are a few suggested actions:
1. Treat the complaints very seriously, meet with the employee who is raising the concerns and make sure you have a comprehensive note and understanding of exactly what is being alleged;
2. Consider whether or not the complainant should be offered counselling;
3. Interview all relevant witnesses to any alleged wrongdoing and take full statements;
4. Act in accordance with any relevant polices in place, such as a grievance policy and a bullying and harassment policy;
5. Where necessary to allow proper investigation, consider suspending on full pay employees against whom allegations have been made - ensure that you make it clear to the suspended employee that the suspension is a precautionary measure pending an investigation and not a disciplinary sanction and confirm that in writing;
6. Make sure that the investigator and chair of the grievance hearing (as well as any chair of a grievance appeal hearing) are different people and have not been involved in any way in the matters complained of, for example, as a witness; and
7. Where appropriate, take disciplinary action against offending employees.
Getting it wrong can be costly, as this case illustrates, because in addition to the compensation awarded, the employer no doubt had to pay significant legal costs to defend the claim and incur a large amount of management time that added no value to the business.
The judge awarded £13,000 for injury to feelings. She did not find sufficient evidence of any clear policy or procedure for dealing with sexual harassment and conduct in the workplace and applied an extra 15% because of failings in the business’s handling of the claimant’s grievance. Further compensation was added for loss of earnings and interest. “We found that the investigation was entirely defective. It did not in fact address the points raised by the claimant nor did it provide any response to her complaints,” said the judgment.