Employers may be required to investigate discrimination and harassment claims, even if the victim does not want further scrutiny to take place, lawyers have warned.
A landmark employment tribunal ruling has awarded a gay employee more than £23,000 in compensation after he was subjected to insulting remarks and inappropriate gestures from colleagues and management.
The Brooks v Findlay Industries ruling found in favour of the former employee, even though he had asked the HR department not to investigate the matter for fear of making the situation worse.
The tribunal ruled that the firm should have taken steps to deal with the problem, even though the employee had opposed further action at a disciplinary meeting, and that it believed management had been reluctant to face the issues.
Fraser Younson, a partner with law firm McDermott Will & Emery, said this was another serious hurdle for employers to face, because many victims of harassment were afraid to make a complaint – especially about managers.
“This is extremely tough on employers because there is very little a company can do if an individual won’t elaborate further on a complaint. It puts an even greater burden on employers,” he said.
“Employers should really push staff on the need to investigate, even if it is a sensitive issue, and all efforts to do this must be documented,” he added.
Brooks suffered sustained harassment at work after his line manager heard a rumour that he was homosexual and passed this on to the head of HR. The rumour subsequently spread around the company, despite the fact Brooks did not want to his sexual orientation to be disclosed at work.
He also alleged that confidential HR information about him was revealed to colleagues, including details of his emergency male contact, which led to further disparaging remarks.
Younson said employers should update staff handbooks to include better information on discrimination and complete more rigorous equal opportunities training.