Whistleblower tribunal | HR Director took 'no action' over sexual harassment claims

HR Director took 'no action' over sexual harassment claims

The HR Director at Sellafield nuclear site took “no action” following allegations of sexual harassment, an employment tribunal has been told.

The allegations come from HR consultant Alison McDermott – who commanded a £1,500-a-day fee for working on the nuclear site’s equality, diversity and inclusion remit – who added that reports of bullying, harassment and homophobic abuse were not properly investigated at the Cumbrian site.

Whistleblower termination

McDermott alleges that she had her contract terminated for whistleblowing in 2018, adding that she was told by HR Director Heather Roberts that there was no need for an external investigation into her reports of bullying et al.

The tribunal had previously been told that a report made anonymously through external system Safecall accused a member of the HR team of telling sexually inappropriate jokes, touching female members of the department, berating a colleague and "telling tales" about sexual conquests.

With Sellafield, the Nuclear Decommisioning Authority (NDA) and the HR Director being taken to tribunal, David Vineall, Group HRD for the NDA, did confirm that he received a letter that was previously critical of the HR department at Sellafield.

According to BBC reports, the letter said: “Someone has recently raised an issue of sexual harassment regarding HR leaders and Heather has taken no action."

Vineall also added that he advised Roberts to undertake an external investigation into allegations but she told him they did not have evidence.

He said: "I wanted to make sure we were following the due process so I had discussions with her, she explained the approach she had taken, that she had taken advice from the legal team.

The hearing continues today.

Previous reporting

When HR Grapevine previously reported on this case, we added some crib notes on what sexual harassment at work is and why it might be more prevalent than HR thinks.

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, the governmental body adds.

Read more from us

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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