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What can we learn from whe World Cup kissing scandal?

Kate Palmer - Peninsula UK

After Luis Rubiales’ resignation as President of the Spanish Football Federation for kissing Spain forward Jenni Hermoso, at the Women’s World Cup closing ceremony, it serves as an appropriate time to take a closer look at the HR lessons that can be learned.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, looks at the importance of managing working relationships and setting appropriate boundaries within the workplace.

Appropriate Boundaries:
“No matter where you work, there should always be appropriate boundaries in place, and the environment in which you carry out your role should not affect the dynamic of managing working relationships or setting appropriate boundaries. Rubiales acted inappropriately towards Hermoso due to his action being an unwarranted physical one. Hermoso did not consent to Rubiales kissing her, and so, even in the case that Rubiales may have not intended to cause upset by his action, ultimately his actions are unacceptable due to both his position within the Spanish Football Federation and the fact that Hermoso did not consent to the kiss.

“Any unwarranted or unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated, or offended, even if it wasn’t originally intended to, is considered sexual harassment. This covers a wide range of actions, including but not limited to, flirting, gesturing, or making sexual remarks about someone’s body, clothing, or appearance, telling sexually offensive jokes, asking questions about someone’s sex life, sexual orientation, and touching someone against their will, including hugging or massaging.

“It is therefore extremely important that employers and HR managers are aware of what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour, as well as the actions that can be deemed as unwarranted behaviour and are able to have open conversations with their colleagues, so they feel comfortable speaking up if any unwanted or inappropriate behaviour happens.”

Thorough Investigations:
“Any claims of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously. As discussed previously, if the victim feels intimidated, degraded, or humiliated by the action of another person, then employers need to carry out a thorough investigation.

“Employers and HR managers should review their policies to see if there are certain procedures they need to follow internally when dealing with sexual harassment allegations. If none are specified then would look to follow the regular grievance procedure, with additional features due to the nature of the grievance being handled. An investigation should always be carried out at this stage; failure to do this by an employer or HR manager could leave room for further unwarranted behaviour to take place. It is important to highlight that as a business you do not condone any form of unwarranted behaviour and carry out an investigation. You could see if separating the parties involved while the investigation takes place could make the working environment more comfortable while you look to investigate the complaint. Don’t move the complainant unless they ask to be moved.

“In any situation like this, it is imperative to gather as much information and detail as possible. This includes getting dates, times, location, and any other information so that a full and fair investigation can take place. You will need to speak with the alleged harasser and any witnesses to the event to get a full picture of what has taken place and both sides of the story. From this, you can look at whether further action needs to be taken.

“If the allegation is upheld and deemed to have taken place, like in the Rubiales case, you will need to take disciplinary action against the harasser. From here, a full disciplinary procedure will need to take place. A sanction in the case of sexual harassment is not appropriate; instead, the full disciplinary procedure should be carried out.

Equality in the work environment:
“In the case of Rubiales and Hermoso, the issue of equality within the workplace needs to be addressed. The Equality Act 2010 sets out nine protected characteristics that cannot be discriminated against. All employees must be treated fairly, for example, an employee’s sex, age, or religious beliefs cannot be contributing factors to a decision made about them by an employer or HR manager.

“FIFA, as world football’s governing body, opened a disciplinary proceeding to examine Rubiales’s actions. Rubiales maintains that the kiss was consensual, while Hermoso argues it was not. While Rubiales eventually chose to stand down from his position as President of the Spanish Football Federation of his own accord, if businesses do not offer a fair investigation into an allegation for both the claimant and the alleged harasser, they could make both employees feel isolated and unsupported. This could also have reputational damage for a business if they appear not to be taking a claim seriously.

“As an employer, it is important to remember that if an employee believes that they have been neglected due to a protected characteristic being the reason why a proper investigation has not taken place, they can choose to raise a claim under discrimination laws. This would result in an employment tribunal, where a judge will access the full claim. If the claim was found to be successful, you could end up paying unlimited compensation.”

The overall takeaway?
“Employees should always know they are able to speak up if they feel another colleague has acted inappropriately towards them. It is a HR manager and employer’s responsibility to listen and make the correct decision based on the information they receive. A thorough investigation should always take place whenever allegations of sexual harassment are raised. When the complaint is being investigated it is up to the HR manager and employer to ensure that none of the nine protected characteristics of both the claimant and the alleged harasser have been neglected or used against them.”

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