Expert warns on misconduct allegation response

11 July 2023

Businesses should ensure they have a thorough disciplinary process in place to deal with allegations of misconduct and inappropriate behaviour, a legal expert said today in light of the BBC scandal.

Jayne Holliday, Legal Director in Employment Law at West Midlands law firm Higgs LLP, said allegations, and in particular suspensions, should be handled carefully and cautiously to avoid legal claims further down the line.

Her warning comes as the BBC faces scrutiny over its handling of the latest crisis to land at its door, with a so far unnamed senior employee alleged to have paid for photographs of a teenager.

It is believed that the presenter has been suspended and an investigation launched.

Jayne said: “The BBC scandal is a stark warning to all employers to have a sufficient disciplinary policy and procedure in place.

“Most allegations of misconduct and inappropriate behaviour come from a colleague, but it’s certainly not unheard of for the complaint to come from outside the company, possibly from a customer or a service user.

“The most important thing is for a business to have an adequate plan in place. Employees should be aware of the scope of the disciplinary policy and in what circumstances it can be used."

Jayne Holliday

Legal Director, Employment Law, Higgs LLP

“It should set out the right to suspend employees from work pending an investigation and in what cases that would happen.

“Failure to follow a proper process could easily see the employee making a claim of discrimination or constructive dismissal, should it come to that.”

Jayne warned businesses that suspension must be handled with care – or the employee could take legal action at a later date.

She said: “Suspension should not be used arbitrarily or in a draconian manner. Someone suspended from work will always be treated with suspicion – and they might well be innocent.

“Employers should give thought on what they will tell the rest of the team to explain the employee’s absence. I would advise saying they are out of the business due to personal circumstances.”

Jayne said a thorough investigation should be conducted, including interviewing of any witnesses, as well as looking into whether there is any history between the accused and the accuser.

“An employer needs to be able to prove if challenged that a proper investigation took place and that a reasonable decision was made based on the information available,” said Jayne. “They don’t necessarily have to prove someone’s guilt.

“It’s all about the process. I would advise all businesses to seek legal advice as soon as an allegation of misconduct or inappropriate behaviour is made. The ability to parachute in an external organisation should also be clearly stated in the disciplinary policy.

“Professionals can ensure that the procedure is sound and fair and they can also advise on the investigation process.

“Mistakes in cases of this nature can prove very costly, as well as reputationally damaging. It’s very difficult to rectify poor procedure once it’s happened.”

Higgs can also provide training for managers and supervisors on how best to deal with disciplinary allegations and investigations.

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