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How should companies handle abuse claims


Following on from the Jimmy Saville scandal, British football has been rocked by allegations of widespread historical child sex abuse at clubs across the country. As the story continues to grow clubs are coming under fire for their handling of the allegations. Article from employment law specialists, ELAS.

It has to be remembered that football clubs and the BBC are also employers and both historic and current allegations can be made at any time, both against employees in their private lives but also in the course of their employment. How can employers handle allegations about their employees, past or present, in order to maintain reputation and minimise damage in the public eye? ELAS legal services manager Geoff Isherwood looks at ways in which businesses should deal with allegations in order to protect their current employees, clients etc, ensure that nothing is currently going on and manage any future allegations that may arise and the fall-out from those:

We’ve all been shocked by the scale of the historic child sex allegations and this latest scandal looks set to spread across more football clubs. All companies have a duty to protect their employees and clients from abuse within the workplace, whether this is verbal, physical or – as in this case – sexual. Often such abuses are never known about until they are in the public domain and it’s incredibly hard to regain reputation following allegations of abuse. Companies would hope that matters can be resolved without becoming public but, should this not be the case then damage limitation is important. Any good company who finds themselves in this position would benefit from an immediate public statement confirming that:

1. They pride themselves on being an equal opportunities employer and condemn any form of abuse/bullying or harassment

2. They knew nothing of the allegations

3. They are immediately asking all employees to notify them of any evidence they are aware of which would assist an immediate internal investigation in the hope there can be no repeat of such allegations

4. They will cooperate fully with any public investigations into such matters

Employees should be encouraged in the first place to raise any issues in the strictest of confidence with their managers. Any allegations should immediately be thoroughly investigated and steps taken to ensure that the employees involved are protected during the course of the investigation, both from contact with the alleged abuser as well as damage to reputation should allegations be unfounded.

Where an employer becomes aware of allegations of sexual assault against their employees which occurred outside the workplace we would recommend calling the employees in for an internal investigation immediately to see what, if anything, has happened and what is happening in terms of a police investigation. The basic principle of UK law is a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty but as an employer you must act in the best interests of your company and other employees. If your business is in the public sector e.g. a school this is particularly important.

You must take action to protect your clients while a full investigation is completed. If you have any suspicions at all then you should suspend the employee on full pay and seek employment law advice before issuing a public statement as quickly as possible. As we have seen from Operation Yewtree with multiple high profile people being investigated for historic sex crimes, not everyone who is accused is guilty and the fallout from the accusation can be devastating to them, for example Cliff Richard. If it turns out your employee has been falsely accused then you should reinstate them to their former position immediately following the outcome of the investigation.

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