False claim could deter harassment complaints

Tackling harassment in the workplace could be put back years by the recent
highly-publicised case of a woman who made a false rape claim.

Pharmacist Lynn Walker faces a £500,000 bill after the man she accused sued
her for defamation.

Now Linda Jones, of the commercial law firm Wragge & Co, says HR
professionals will have to work hard to prevent complainants being deterred.
She said employees needed to be made aware qualified privilege allows them to
make a complaint without fear of a defamation action.

Qualified privilege is only lost – laying the complainant open to legal
action by the accused – if they repeat their claim outside the context of the
disciplinary procedure or if they can be shown to be motivated by malice.

Jones said, "The circumstances of this case were very unusual. But
because all the fine detail was not included in the newspaper reports it gives
the impression that anyone making an allegation could be sued for
defamation."

She added: "The challenge for personnel managers is to give reassurances
to employees that if they bring complaints they are not going to have a
defamation action slapped on them."

Walker was sued for defamation by Martin Garfoot whom she accused of raping
her at work.

Last week, a jury found in favour of Garfoot and awarded him £400,000.
Walker must also pay both sides’ legal costs and now faces financial ruin.

The High Court was told Garfoot was suspended by Boots while an
investigation was carried out into Walker’s allegations.

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