By Wanda Goldwag
In the week that more allegations have emerged about Jimmy Savile the spotlight is falling very heavily on what his employers at the BBC and elsewhere knew and what they should have done at the time.
Police have now described Savile as a "predatory sex offender" and [clearly any legal cases that are possible will be handled by them but the burning issue that will remain is did the BBC collude with Savile and other well known celebrities in giving them access to young girls, failing to protect them when they were on their premises and not taking reasonable notice of those allegations and comments that were made at the time.
In addition to the extent that these allegations are proved the issue comes to the fore as to what liability they have for their employees actions and what would have happened if a member of staff had blown the whistle and then been fired or forced to keep quiet about what they knew.
If this sort of activity occurred today the BBC would be in a very difficult position legally.
The Equality Act means that the employer is now potentially liable for the behaviour of their staff and for harassment of their employees by others, customers, clients, or visiting DJ’s on at least two occasions if they have been made aware that it has happened and they didn’t take reasonable steps to stop it happening again.
That they are clearly responsible for preventing bullying and harassing behaviour and would need to have made it clear to everyone that such behaviour was not acceptable.
Best practice now is that all staff should receive information about what is acceptable behaviour towards, colleagues, clients and others and should have a whistle-blowing process in place so that for example junior members of staff can voice concerns or report inappropriate behaviour that they have witnessed with no fear of being victimised either by the accused person or by the organisation itself being reluctant to know difficult things about senior colleagues and key individuals.
As a Non Executive Director and chair of Audit committees I often have to manage these sorts of whistle-blowing activities and there is no doubt they are difficult to handle.
My judgement is that you should start with an open mind. It is always possible that even absolutely bizarre revelations are true; the first step in the process is to understand what the real allegation is and why the person concerned has chosen this moment to tell the truth.
In one recent case the staff member had just received a poor review and a low bonus and other people assumed that it was a case of sour grapes but in fact the review had been designed by the perpetrator to bully them into silence and intimidate them.
Inappropriate sexual behaviour was alleged and on investigation proved to be true disciplinary action was therefore started. As an employer even more concerning was that a reasonable number of other people some 8 or 9 had known about the sexual behaviour and kept quiet for fear of their own jobs.
The five point guide I would therefore recommend any company following is:
• Tell everyone what is acceptable behaviour in clear unambiguous language
• Walk the talk don’t say drunkenness at work is unacceptable and then make a hero of the head of sales getting falling down drunk when he brings in a new customer
• Identify genuinely independent and brave people who staff can go to if they want to report a problem
• Investigate even issues that seem trivial or perhaps motivated by personal reason
• When you come to a conclusion initiate fair, timely disciplinary procedures and when those have been concluded make sure that the principles, if not the details of the case are disseminated widely.
Wanda Goldwag is Non Executive Chair of True North Human Capital Ltd. which helps companies find both the right men and women for senior roles.