Not one, but two feet in mouth!
20/20 hind sight is a wonderful thing. I’m sure we’ve all looked at things that we (or our clients!) have done, that looked reasonable at the time, but then realised how differently things would have gone if we had been able to predict the future.
However, there are just as many occasions where you ask yourself, how did you NOT see this coming.
Years ago, I remember being horrified by a case bought against a well known law firm, where senior male solicitors had given junior female staff inappropriate gifts for Christmas. I’m sorry, but in what parallel universe could chocolate dildoes ever be considered appropriate. The worrying part of the tale was not the giving of the gifts, but the fact that when the women complained, the partners of the firm did nothing. How they could fail to take the problem seriously still baffles me, but this was around 20 years ago. It’s well known that views have changed dramatically and what was once laughed off as office banter, is now known to be inappropriate behaviour.
Or so I thought.
A business has recently lost £50k (not to mention legal costs) for failing to take a female employee’s complaints of sexual harassment seriously. The conduct of her colleagues was clearly unacceptable, so how the employers thought that they could brush it under the carpet is still a mystery. Apparently, they thought that allowing the woman to be asked whether she was wet, was acceptable, and instead of talking to the colleagues to tell them not to behave like this, she was advised to say she was pregnant to avoid unwanted male attention. Not quite sure what would have happened when, 9 months later, she still hadn’t given birth or even put on any weight – was she supposed to overdose on chocolate as part of the plan???
I do think things have changed.
In a recent meeting with my team, I commented that it used to be quite common to walk into an office and see calendars of naked or topless women on the walls. This would now be unthinkable, and my colleagues were suitably surprised that this ever happened at all, which shows a general change in attitudes. Nevertheless, there are still some industries where behaviour like this is common, and not enough is being done to address it. Employers are not expected to be miracle workers. You can’t change how people think. However, if you are the boss, it’s your job to set the standards, and make it clear what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. If you are doing the right thing (and seen to be doing the right thing) the chances of a successful claim against you are considerably reduced.
So, my advice to all you employers out there, is to let your staff know that you will listen to any complaints and concerns with an open mind, and you will work with them to reach a resolution. You cannot please all the people all of the time, but at least if you try, you are more likely to please a Tribunal if you are unfortunate enough to end up in front of one.
Kleyman & Co Solicitors. The full service law firm. Keeping your feet out of your mouth and firmly on the ground.