Weekly dilemma: reporting incident triggers disciplinary procedure

Q One of our managers was out at a social event with staff. In an incident witnessed by everyone present, he got a female member of staff in a headlock and grabbed her breasts. The woman later reported the incident, but stated that she didn’t want it taken any further. Has the statutory grievance procedure been triggered?

A A grievance is “a complaint by an employee about action which his employer has taken or is contemplating taking in relation to him”. The intention of the employee, or omission of the word “grievance” in the complaint, is irrelevant.

Therefore, regardless of her wishes, provided she reported the incident in writing, the statutory grievance procedure has been triggered. Failure to follow the statutory procedure could result in an uplift in any award of compensation made by an employment tribunal.

If the employee does not wish to take the matter further, they may not have reported the incident in writing. In such circumstances, the statutory grievance procedure would not have been triggered. However, this does not absolve the employer of responsibility under health and safety laws if it fails to investigate the matter further.

Therefore, the employer cannot ignore the incident. The employer must start an investigation, either under a grievance procedure or as a disciplinary investigation against the manager concerned. If the female employee is worried about her involvement, she could be an anonymous witness or could refuse to participate.

Kate French, associate, Reed Smith Richards Butler

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