Workplace investigations take centre stage following two high profile scandals in the epicentre of business and government – employers, take note.

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What happened?

CBI

Tony Danker was dismissed following exposure by the Guardian of sexual harassment claims brought by various employees of CBI. In an open letter, Brian McBride, President of the CBI, explained how the allegations were shameful and were accompanied by a sense of bewilderment. He confirmed that CBI had become complacent and made mistakes as to the organisation of their business management, and the externally appointed investigator made no less than 35 recommendations for CBI to implement.

Following the allegations against Danker, further complaints of similar conduct emerged against other CBI employees and a wider independent investigation has been commissioned, which is set to take around six months to complete.

Raab

On 21 April 2023, Dominic Raab’s resignation letter was published following the outcome of an independent investigation into allegations of bullying.

The investigation took 5 months to complete and concluded that Raab’s behaviour was “intimidating, in the sense of excessively demanding” and that “he acted in a way which was intimidating, in the sense of unreasonably and persistently aggressive conduct… [involving] an abuse or misuse of power in a way that undermines or humiliates.”

Raab was radically critical of the investigation, an investigation he had requested take place, citing that the adverse findings against him were “flawed and set a dangerous precedent for the conduct of good government.” However, he had agreed with the PM that should the investigation confirm any allegations, he would resign., As such, Raab kept his word.

What can you learn?

The difficulty 

These recent investigations demonstrate the devastation to an organisation should staff misconduct go amiss for too long, highlighting the true challenge of investigating claims of misconduct. It underpins the difficulty in determining the balance between a ‘strong’ management style and bullying. Workplace investigations into such conduct have increased significantly in recent years, in line with society’s increasing expectation of accountability and transparency in the workplace.

Employers have an obligation to implement policies and practices that allow employees to raise their concerns in the safety of knowing they will be dealt with promptly and fairly. Failing to implement such a practice can lead to employees being reluctant to raise grievances due to fear of adverse repercussions. As demonstrated by the unravelling of CBI’s self-proclaimed stellar culture, failing to address concerns in a timely manner, indeed failing to notice concerns or issues at all, can be damning to an organisation’s reputation; let alone to the wellbeing of their employees.

Practical tips

  1. Employers must act appropriately and take any allegations of bullying or misconduct extremely seriously by investigating them appropriately. Such allegations are difficult to investigate, especially since they often involve an element of ‘he said, she said,’ and there will rarely be documented evidence.
  2. Instructing independent investigators shows you are taking the complaint seriously. Victims often self-blame and it takes courage for them to speak up. The more they are taken seriously, the more likely you are to be able to nip any similar future issues in the bud.
  3. Promptness is also vital. It is a time-consuming process, but any delay can have an adverse effect on the victim’s wellbeing and can lead to you losing control on the situation, for example, unnecessary delay opens the risk of the victim making a costly employment tribunal claim.
  4. The appointed investigator will need to be well-versed in harassment and discrimination law and will need to spend a significant amount of time interviewing relevant parties, reviewing documents and policies, documenting every step of their approach to come to a fair conclusion and ultimately provide the right recommendations to enable employers to deal with the issue.

Independent Investigation Support

Investigations are vital in addressing employee concerns and there are clear financial and reputational risks if employers get it wrong. If you are faced with issues of bullying or other misconduct issues in your workplace, our team of experienced independent and impartial employment lawyer-investigators can help. Please call us for an initial chat on 0808 196 3151 or learn more here.