Tribunal | Whistleblower alleges HRD 'sat on' sexual harassment claims

Whistleblower alleges HRD 'sat on' sexual harassment claims

An employment tribunal has heard that an HR Director at Sellafield allegedly “sat on” reports of sexual harassment by a worker - the BBC reports.

Consultant Alison McDermott, who runs the company Interim Diversity Limited, claimed that her contract was ended after she blew the whistle on work harassment at the site in Seascale, Cumbria in 2018.

She has made claims against nuclear site Sellafield, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the HR Director Heather Roberts.

She claimed that her work came to an end when she produced a report on the HR function.

McDermott was contracted to work within the equality, diversity and inclusion remit at the nuclear fuel reprocessing and decommissioning site.

Confidential reporting system

A tribunal in Leeds heard that McDermott spoke to Roberts about an anonymous report alleging sexual harassment, which was done through a confidential reporting system on Safecall.

In a witness statement, McDermott claimed that Roberts told her: "I've sat on this for weeks."

Deshpal Panesar QC, representing Roberts and Sellafield, asked McDermott if she accepted that the Safecall report had only been received by Roberts days before the conversation in September 2018, which she agreed.

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Despite this, the D&I consultant alleged that Roberts had admitted the issue had been known about for some time and she hadn’t taken any action to address this.

In addition to this, she claimed that Roberts asked her to take part in a covert investigation to look at issues raised in the report, however she allegedly refused and said she advised that a formal investigation would be needed.

Panesar suggested that she had agreed to take part in an undercover investigation, using focus groups to ask staff questions.

The tribunal is expected to last three weeks.

Sexual harassment at work

These allegations shine a light on reporting sexual harassment and tackling it in the workplace.

In the UK, according to Acas, sexual harassment is “unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature” and the law protects employees, workers, contractors, self-employed and job applicants from this.

For this to be considered as sexual harassment, the unwanted behaviour must have either violated someone’s dignity, whether it was intended or not, or created a hostile environment for them, whether it was intended or not, according to Acas.

Data carried out by the Everyday Sexism Project and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) discovered that 52% of women have been victims of unwanted sexual behaviours at work - from groping to inappropriate jokes.

As such, it is crucial that employers do all that they can to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Preventing sexual harassment

In a previous interview, Katie Hodson, Partner and Head of Employment at SAS Daniels LLP, told HR Grapevine that in instances of sexual harassment, employers should have “robust policies in place”.

She previously pointed out that “staff need to be clear that this behaviour is unacceptable and aware of the consequences of breaching the policies. This could be supported by staff training”.

“Further, any and all complaints should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. This would include asking relevant questions and looking at the evidence with a clear and unbiased viewpoint,” Hodson concluded.



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