You’re a voluntary organisation. You think you have your processes right. You’ve followed all the ‘rules’ the HR people have told you to follow when it comes to disciplinaries and the conduct of your personnel.
Then you receive an email. It’s from a woman who works for you. It’s subject line is: ‘HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL – NOT TO BE DISCLOSED’. She accuses your organisation of covering up sexual harassment.
She'll never know that there have been others, over the years - will she?
Hers is one lone voice, limited to an email from her to you, as the leader of the organisation. She'll never know that there have been others, over the years - will she?
Some have been ignored by your predecessors. Other have been dealt with and then dismissed.
Can you do something about this one? Should you?
The risks of dealing with it seem too high.
Exposing your organisation to scrutiny could lead to reputational damage.
You organisation could be sued if you delve into the past.
You could lose your job. So could others.
But, if you don’t deal with this, the stakes are far higher.
Sexual harassment and abuse are not new issues for human beings.
But they are new issues for voluntary organisations.
"...many of the organisations who are still getting it wrong are highly reputable..."
And many of the organisations who are still getting it wrong are highly reputable. Because standard disciplinary frameworks often don’t take these kind of allegations into account.
What do you do if an employee accuses another of sexually assaulting them?
Do you move the complainant to another office? Or do you move the alleged perpetrator?
Do you report the matter to the police? What if the complainant doesn’t want the police involved?
Do you discipline the alleged perpetrator?
If the complaint is made in confidence, can you share the information with anyone else? Can this appear on your risk register? Can you tell your insurers?
These kind of questions aren’t usually addressed within current organisational frameworks because the law and policies and procedures dealing with these issues isn’t cohesive.
"Joining the dots together in a way that fits each organisation isn’t easy."
It’s like a patchwork of guidance cutting across different sectors of policy and various fields of law. Joining the dots together in a way that fits each organisation isn’t easy.
If this is the case with your organisation, don’t deem this as a unique weakness. Many organisations, including key players in the voluntary sector, will not have been prepared for the new atmosphere that is giving complainants the courage to come forward.
Sexual harassment and abuse cuts across several areas of law and internal practice – employment, disciplinary regulation, safeguarding, child protection, criminal, personal injury and governance.
Which is why it’s essential to ensure that the advice you receive in this area is from someone who has the required expertise to ensure that there are no ‘holes’ in your procedures, internal training or investigations/ disciplinaries you might carry out.
Our Head of Legal Practice has over 20 years of experience within the legal field of the specialist areas that sexual harassment and abuse claims are covered by.
"...a ‘one size fits all’ approach can’t work..."
What’s more, she’s worked on both a policy and operational level within the voluntary sector, so she understands how voluntary organisations function. She knows that a ‘one size fits all’ approach can’t work, because the individual identity and ‘shape’ of an organisation has an impact on how it’s run.
As well as being highly experienced in conducting internal investigations, organisational reviews and devising disciplinary and safeguarding procedures, she’s an excellent trainer in all of these areas.
She now uses her expertise and experience as Special Investigation Counsel to advise, equip and ‘overhaul’ voluntary organisations specifically in relation to their handling of sexual harassment and abuse complaints.
If you’re concerned about how your organisation handles sexual harassment and abuse claims, you need to call her.
"A skilled, experienced and competent advisor who has a reputation for being neutral, fair and worthy of respect..."
She’ll speak to your leadership team free of charge to give you an idea of how to address any flaws in your policies, procedures and processes, how to demonstrate due diligence to any regulatory authorities and how to position yourself to handle any future claims against your organisation.
The allegation that’s sitting in your inbox is a ticking timebomb for everyone involved. A skilled, experienced and competent advisor who has a reputation for being neutral, fair and worthy of respect can limit the damage. For everyone involved….
To find out more about how Greycoat Law can help you to deal with alleged sexual harassment or alleged abuse within your voluntary organisation, give us a call on 0191 500 9762 (Newcastle) or 020 8989 9111 (London).
Note that this article provides general information only. It is not intended to provide specific legal advice for any individual case. If you want tailored legal guidance on your situation, you should contact a specialist lawyer. The law, as we've described it, is correct - according to the laws of England and Wales - as at the date this article was first published.
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