In a week when sexual harassment stories are being reported by every media source in the country, a partner at one of the region’s largest law firms says sexual harassment claims can be the most difficult to deal with in the workplace.
Robert Williams is an Employment and Business Law Solicitor with GHP Legal which employs around one hundred people at its offices in Wrexham, Oswestry, Llangollen and Chirk. He added that despite the difficulties faced by employers in such cases, they are under a duty to investigate fairly and objectively all harassment allegations made by their employees.
“The safest way for an employer to deal with such allegations,” he said, “is to bring any subsequent disciplinary proceedings based on admitted facts. Often there will be no corroborating witness evidence and whilst an employer would not wish to “convict” the employee on only one person’s word it is very important that they take the complaint seriously.
“If a claim for harassment is to be brought against an employer it would be usual to rely on the Protection from Harassment Act and require two specific acts of harassment that the employee would find distressing for it to form a course of events to bring an action. If however the employee is still working there it can make for a very difficult workplace environment unless some sort of mutual separation within the workplace or in terms of the employment contracts can be negotiated.
“From the point of view of the respective employees, and assuming no criminal offences have been committed, then neither the victim nor the perpetrator would be seeking publicity. This can be a very difficult scenario for the employer to manage as publicity can reflect badly on the employer and also action can be taken against the employer who would usually be liable for the acts of the harassing employee.
“These are difficult cases to take and any employee claiming harassment should be advised of what will be involved. Ultimately any processes followed could be more distressing than the act perpetrated. Every situation is fact dependant.”