A stare too far.

A stare too far.

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15 Jun 2018

Times are changing and behaviour that was tolerated in the 1970s is not tolerated today. But people still behave badly sometimes and one of our more common case types is the management of inappropriate behaviour at work. Employers can be liable for the bad behaviour of an employee, and so the topic should be treated seriously. In each case we’ve managed we finish by advising our clients what they should do next to ensure that bad behaviour is quickly corrected. This article contains that advice.

A delivery driver visited a customer premises to drop off printer supplies. While waiting for the signature on the paperwork he noticed the female receptionist, a lady he thought very attractive. She offered him a cup of tea, he accepted. So far no problem. When he received his tea he asked her if she was married. She told him it was none of business. Instead of shutting up he told her how attractive she was. She didn’t respond and later he took a photo of her on his phone.

Now if you’re sat there thinking ‘what’s wrong with that’ then you really ought not be employing people and this article is not for you. If however you recognise the discomfort the driver’s actions must have caused the lady in question then you’re on the right page. The implications are not just about harassment, but there’s a commercial angle to. If the receptionist complained to her managers, the complaint is bound to be passed on to the driver’s employer, and if it isn’t well handled it will undoubtedly result in damage to the relationship, perhaps even cancellation of the contract.

It’s a wise idea to take proactive action in front of a complaint, particularly if your employees deal with the public or with suppliers and customers. But if you actually receive a complaint about the behaviour of one of your employees you absolutely should take action, aside from investigating the incident itself obviously.

You can safely assume that if your employee has indeed behaved badly, he (or she) will have done so before, and will do so again, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. An employee like this will generate future complaints, perhaps even legal action for harassment, and if you the employer have not gone to reasonable lengths to prevent this kind of thing happening, you will be held to be vicariously liable for your employee’s actions.

‘Reasonable lengths’ include having an Equal Opportunities Policy and a Dignity at Work Policy and ensuring all employees are provided with a copy. But it’s more than that. Periodically you must remind employees that you have these policies and give some practical examples of what they mean – examples of behaviour that is and is not acceptable. Larger employers will be expected to provide some training too.

Once you receive a complaint you should investigate it immediately, and keep the person who made the complaint informed about your actions in investigating it. A formal or informal warning may be appropriate, in the case above the photo may have rendered this driver’s actions as ‘gross misconduct’. Of course you will need to consider the individual’s record and service with you, but a bad egg can cost you business and must be dealt with.

A frank apology to the employers of the complainant will go a long way to repairing, even improving relationships, and you don’t need to go into detail about what disciplinary action has been taken – merely confirming that it has is enough. Remember that the disciplinary procedure is designed to correct ill discipline, not simply to be used as a tool to bludgeon an errant employee. For it to be most effective the employee needs to thoroughly understand the problem, and in this case the two policies mentioned above – only when he does can you be as sure as you can be that it won’t happen again.

Showing that you have properly dealt with complaints raised may help you convince future tribunals that you do take equal opportunities seriously, and might help you avoid a future vicarious liability charge.

Our top tips for ironing out inappropriate behaviour:

  • Review your Equal Opportunities and Dignity at Work policies and re-issue them annually
  • Issue 2 or 3 additional periodic briefings on the standards of conduct you expect
  • Require employees who fall short of standards to undergo further training and to sign a letter promising to abide by these policies in future
  • Use the Disciplinary Procedure fairly to follow up on misconduct, aiming to correct future behaviour in cases that fall short of gross misconduct
  • If you’re too busy, consider using an HR outsourcing company like myHRdept to carry out investigations and to set out recommendations

See our banter at work short film here. (If it won’t load in your browser see it in instead in our YouTube Channel.)

If you're thinking of outsourcing your HR why not contact myhrdept.co.uk. With full service Premium Plus HR & employment law packages from only £140 per month (and start-up packages from just £80 per month) and fixed price HR support options available for one-off issues, we believe we offer the best combination of quality and price available in the UK. Call us on 01628 820515 to discuss your requirements or email enquiries@myhrdept.co.uk and we’ll call you back.