The business called me for help with this matter...
As a first step I visited the business and interviewed the female employee and one of the managers of the business. The female employee was having a difficult time facing her male colleagues and so had ‘hidden’ in the office for the days since the incident, avoiding going to certain parts of the business, which was not healthy or sustainable for her or the business. I provided some general counselling and advice to the female employee, and gave her some strategies as to how to move forward so she was comfortable. I also extended the offer for the business to pay for additional counselling or support for her and her husband if she wished.
I then interviewed the male employee in question. Due to effective questioning techniques he readily admitted that he went to the Christmas Party with the sole intention of ‘getting shit-faced’. Later on in the interview he tried to blame the business for his behaviour because they ‘supplied me with unlimited alcohol’, however, due to his earlier admission I shut this down. Note: the business definitely should not have provided unlimited alcohol – see notes below….. He also admitted to what he had done and was apologetic. Off his own bat he wrote a formal apology to the female employee which the business delivered to her.
We ended up terminating the male employee for gross / serious misconduct, and no notice was payable. We also advised the male employee that the female employee had the right to make a sexual assault complaint to the police and he should be aware of this. (She didn’t do this, as she was satisfied that she no longer had to work with him). We also made it clear to the female employee that he was not terminated due to her husband’s request; nor was she responsible for him losing his job – he was solely responsible for his behaviour and subsequent consequences and the business took appropriate action based on the behaviour.
Lessons to be learned…..
- Do as this business did – act swiftly when dealing with a serious incident and seek advice so that you don’t end up with a bigger problem like an unfair dismissal case, and so that any affected employees are looked after straight away. This business also suspended the male employee on full pay while we conducted our investigations which was the correct action.
- Make sure you have robust and thorough policies in place regarding workplace, including event, behaviour. Having policies to rely upon is critical when dealing with incidents such as these.
- Follow the correct processes! You must fairly and impartially investigate any type of incident to get the full picture, and you must always give the alleged offender an opportunity to respond to any allegations. Failure to do so can land you in hot water, especially if you terminate the employee.
- Keep good notes!
- Make sure that any alcohol provided at a workplace event is monitored and is not unlimited. Make sure any venue you use takes Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) seriously!
- Consider having at least one manager at any event as the ‘person in charge’ for the night. This person should not drink alcohol, should stay until the end of the event and all staff should be advised to see this person in the event of any incidents or concerns. If you don’t wish to nominate a manager to do this, consider hiring an external person to be your party patrol. In this case, the party patrol person ideally would have cut off any service of alcohol to the male employee earlier, and if he/she was aware of the inappropriate comments and activities earlier, should have also escorted the employee from the event and sent him home in a cab. This would have prevented the last incident, the male employee would likely still have a job and the business would not have incurred the time and costs involved in the investigation.