It feels like the Press has been packed with stories about a parade of senior men doing some pretty awful things at work (and elsewhere) recently. And there are some depressingly familiar themes which emerge – none of which are new: abuse of power dynamics, a culture of secrecy and a reluctance to tackle bad behaviour.
Media reports about Huw Edwards, Phillip Schofield, Crispin Odey and Tesco Chairman, John Allan have inevitably turned a spotlight on the organisations they work for as questions are asked about what their employers knew and what they did (or didn’t do) about it.
It seems that workplace culture is changing and, particularly Gen Z (although others as well, who are emboldened by this new reality) are not prepared to put up with behaviour in the workplace that is inappropriate such as sexual misconduct, harassment and/or bullying. They will complain, they will blow the whistle, they will go to the press and/or post on social media about their experience.
In the law firm world, for example, the Solicitors Regulation Authority recently reported that since 2018, it has dealt with 251 sexual misconduct claims against lawyers compared to just 30 in the previous five years.
Businesses cannot afford to put these complaints in the ‘too difficult’ pile, brush it under the carpet or simply turn a blind eye to problem staff – no matter how senior they are, even if they are the ‘boss’. Issues need to be investigated, in a timely manner and dealt with – the reputational and legal risk of failing to do so is too significant, and probably more so now than in the past.
Allegations usually come out in the end and organisations can face a PR nightmare if they have been less than pro-active in addressing known problems. Not only are the optics bad, but if an employer fails to protect staff, it’s also potentially a breach of the their legal health and safety duty.
But what if staff on the receiving end of claims against them say that their actions have been misinterpreted by overly sensitive ‘snowflakes’ – is ‘being a dinosaur’ a valid defence?
The bottom line, and a good way to explain it to anyone that might claim to find it difficult, is that the rules really aren’t that hard: would you want someone to behave towards your child or partner/spouse in this way? If not, don’t do it. Everyone instinctively knows what being treated humanely and with respect looks like and that there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed.
These can be, however, complex issues for companies to deal with, particularly when claims are being made against senior staff. So getting specialist, independent help early on is a sensible investment.
How can we help you?
We can put policies and training in place to help avoid these issues. We can also advise on carrying out a fair investigation into misconduct allegations and running a disciplinary procedure, up to and including taking appropriate disciplinary action as well as any regulatory implications. Please get in touch if you would like help with your policies or to discuss anything in particular.