Category Archives: harassment

Good Lord! The Case for Conducting A Thorough Sexual Harassment Investigation

sexual harassment

“Image courtesy of Ambro /”

The case of Lord Rennard, a key figure in the Lib Dems party, accused of alleged sexual harassment shows the importance of conducting a thorough sexual harassment investigation and carefully managing the fall out from what is often a very fraught situation.  This is particularly difficult for the Lib Dems as Lord Rennard is a high profile figure in the party having been inaugural in its creation.

The outcome from the investigation concluded there was insufficient evidence to show that Lord Rennard did actually sexually harassment three women as they claimed despite the adage that given there are three complainants there could be no smoke without fire…..

Initially it seemed that Nick Clegg wasn’t going to take much action, but now seems to have bowed to external pressure.  Lord Rennard has been asked to apologise to the women concerned and has refused to do so; he has therefore been suspended from the political party and is seeking legal action.  Now the Lib Dems are conducting a further investigation into Lord Rennard allegedly bringing the party into disrepute for failing to apologise. This allegation is usually considered to be gross misconduct and carries the penalty of summary dismissal if proven on the balance of probabilities.

With any sexual harassment investigation it is important to conduct the process as quickly and as sensitively as possible.   Inadequate handling of a situation in employment can lead to a resignation claiming constructive dismissal and discrimination in an employment tribunal.  Many people are reluctant to make a formal complaint in the workplace and it takes courage, so when they do so, the matter needs to be handled well.  Any complaint should be in writing as a grievance for the employer to take action.  Thought needs to be given as to handling the personalities involved.  If the individuals work closely together it might be necessary to put both parties on garden leave whilst an investigation is completed.  Support and counselling should be available for both parties.

If there are no witnesses to the allegation it is really important to evaluate the evidence gained. Consideration should be given to how detailed is the evidence for each individual, what is the conduct of the individuals and their willingness to contribute responses when asked, are there any discrepancies and can these be investigated further, are there any explanations for particular inconsistencies in evidence reasonable, are the explanations credible in the context in which they are given, does any explanation given by an individual detract from their evidence, have there been other complaints, etc.  It can often be difficult to prove either way with one person’s word against another.  Circumstantial evidence may need to be used.

The full facts in the form of witness statements should be gathered from the complainant, the alleged perpetrator and any witnesses.  The interviews should be conducted sensitively and confidentially and the witness statements should be signed and dated.

If the complaint is not upheld the complainant needs to be advised of the right to appeal.

The main issues following an investigation are then reintegration and a possible backlash.  HR may lead on reintegration or alternatively it can be a manager. Generally it should be the alleged harasser who should be relocated rather than the complainant, however, this could be difficult in a small company.  Mediation might be a useful alternative to reduce conflict.

It is important to watch out for any backlash if relocation is not possible.  If the alleged harasser is in a position of power there might be unfavourable treatment of the complainant, which is victimisation, a form of discrimination for having raised a complaint and pursuable in an employment tribunal.

Having clear policies in place that cover equal opportunities and harassment are essential to provide clear guidelines to all employees as to how they should conduct themselves in the workplace.


Stand Up to Bullying Day – Actions for Employers

Today is international Stand Up to Bullying Day which is celebrated by 25 countries including the UK.
Bullying and harassment is nasty conduct which makes people feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. It might not be obvious to other people, but it is always about the perception of the person being bullied or harassed. The behaviour may be between two people, manager and employee or two employees or may even involve groups of employees. It has various forms – it could be a one off incident or may be persistent. It can be written in an email or letter, by phone and even face to face. No matter what form it takes, it can be very damaging to those affected.
Examples of bullying and harassment include:
  • constant criticism


  • picking on someone



  • undermining of competence



  • exclusion or victimisation



  • insulting someone



  • unfair treatment



  • denying promotional opportunities


Harassment could be related to a protected characteristic as outlined in the Equality Act 2010 which includes  race, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, maternity, religion, marriage or civil partnership and it is unlawful.
It is often very difficult for a person being bullied or harassed to complain. Often they can not cope with the situation and resign.
It is important for employers to have a policy in place that spells out all the options available to employees and so they know who they can complain to.   If it is an employee’s manager who has been doing the bullying and harassment, then it should be possible for the employee to approach HR or a trade union for assistance. Many larger organisations have harassment counsellors in place who are employees specially trained to assist employees.
There could be a huge impact on an organisation for failing to acknowledge and deal with a bullying and harassment situation which includes loss of morale, poor performance, loss of profits, absence, turnover and unlimited compensation in an employment tribunal.

As well as employees, an organisation is responsible for preventing harassment against:

■ agency workers,
■ ex-employees – where the discriminatory act is closely connected to
their employment,
■ job applicants,
■ contract workers including consultants and other professionals,
■ students on work experience,
■ vocational trainees,
■ volunteers, if they receive an allowance or are contracted to provide a service,
■ board members, non executive directors, and councillors, and
■ customers harassed by an employee providing a service to t

Employers can be held vicariously liable for the conduct of their employees if they have taken no action to defend a situation.  By having a policy in place this will provide a defence.  

A policy should include: 
  • a statement from senior managers


  • definitions of unacceptable behaviour



  • details of responsibilities



  • how employees can raise complaints about bullying



  • an outline of the procedure that will be taken



  • information on potential outcomes


It should be well communicated to the workforce and training provided to all employees so they know how the policy is operated.
Furthermore it is important to promote a zero tolerance culture lead by senior management. 

Tackling Racism in Football

Racism in football has been in the news several times in recent months. John Terry is charged with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand and now Mark McCammon claims he and other black players at Gillingham Football Club were treated differently to white players and is making an employment tribunal claim for racial discrimination and unfair dismissal to be heard later this year.  The Prime Minister is aiming to crack down on racism in football and will be examining the lack of black coaches, managers and referees in the game.  The Football Association are now looking at tougher punishments for players and managers accused of racist behaviour.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of race. Race includes colour, nationality and ethnic/national origins.  It doesn’t matter if the discrimination is done on purpose or not. What counts is whether, as a result of an employer’s actions, an employee is treated less favourably than someone else because of race. The Equality Act 2010 Act protects all racial groups, regardless of their race, colour, nationality, or national or ethnic origins. Every part of employment is included; recruitment, terms and conditions, pay and benefits, status, training, promotion and transfer opportunities, right through to redundancy and dismissal. There are four kinds of unlawful behaviour.

a) direct discrimination – where race is an effective cause for less favourable treatment eg not being offered a job because of a particular nationality,

b) indirect discrimination – where rules or policies are applied to everyone but which particularly disadvantage members of a particular group if that can not be justified eg qualifications required for a job post which have only been gained in the UK,

c) harassment – participating in or allowing or encouraging unwanted behaviour that offends somone or creates a hostile atmosphere eg making racist remarks,

d) victimisation – treating someone badly because they have complained or supported someone bringing a complaint about discrimination eg taking disciplinary action against someone as punishment for their complaint about race discrimination.

Employers need to have a clear policy and procedure in place that gives clear guidelines for conduct and how misconduct will be dealt with.  The FA would do well to heed this advice.