Sexual harassment complaints and whistleblowing

sexual-harassment-complaint-form

The resignation of Michael Fallon last week from the role of Defence Secretary was notable in being the first resignation from a senior government position since the sexual harassment scandal blew up.

Equally of note are the reports that allegations of impropriety were made by Andrea Leadsom. One source, suspecting foul play, remarked that making such an accusation would have bolstered Leadsom’s position as “no one would fire a whistleblower”.

But is this really the case in the world of employment?

Certainly, our experience is that businesses do sack whistleblowers. Whether or not this will be fair in the eyes of the law depends on the circumstances.

In a nutshell, the law protects those who make a protected disclosure in the public interest.

If an employee can demonstrate a causal connection to the satisfaction of a Tribunal that they were dismissed or treated detrimentally as a result, they could be awarded significant levels of compensation. This includes loss of earnings and injury to feelings.

Allegation of sexual harassment

An allegation of sexual harassment is likely to qualify for protection as it will be with reference to an unlawful or potentially criminal act. In all likelihood, it will be made in the public interest as a matter of sexual equality, applicable to a wider group of people than just the complainant.

It follows that an individual making such an allegation will be protected at law, regardless of their length of service, the only caveat being that they must have a “reasonable belief” in the protected disclosure.

Employers

The problem for employers faced with such an allegation is twofold.

  • Firstly, they will need to investigate the underlying complaint and come to a ‘reasonable’ outcome.
  • Secondly, they will need to take care not to treat an employee detrimentally for making such a harmful allegation, even if the allegation is not upheld.

It’s a tough one for an employer who may naturally feel that they should take a strong stand and defend one of their number wrongly accused but by doing so will end up on the wrong side of the law.

Our advice?

Tread carefully.

Rest assured that no matter how complex such issues may appear, there is often a way around them. The trick is not to dig yourself a hole you can’t get out of. 

If you have any questions or queries about this or any other employment issue, please get in touch with a member of our Employment Law team.

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