Fixer: Can I take action on employee’s harassment allegation?

23 Jan 2020 By PM Editorial

The victim doesn’t want to take the issue any further, but I believe the perpetrator should be dismissed

An employee at my organisation recently made a sexual harassment allegation against a senior leader. After investigating the matter, the allegation was upheld by myself. I was ready to take this to the senior leadership team and to call for the individual to be dismissed, but the victim was adamant that this go no further than HR, as she said she was terrified it would somehow get back to her partner. The accusation was a serious one, and I definitely feel it is grounds for dismissal. But I can’t action this without sharing the details of the incident with the rest of the leadership team. Is there anything I can do?

First, you don’t specify your position or the nature of your investigation to uphold the claim. Assuming you’re in a senior HR role, this is an especially difficult scenario and may call for legal advice. However, once you’ve been alerted to a crime or misconduct issue of this magnitude, it isn’t an allegation that can be unheard. As such you have a duty of care and a responsibility to the organisation and its employees to act. 

You should, ideally with a witness, sit down with the person making the allegation and explain your obligation to take action against the perpetrator. You should make clear that you can’t ‘unknow’ something, and try to deal with this as sensitively but as firmly as possible. 

If they still insist on non-escalation you seem to have no choice but to escalate, at least to the line manager of the alleged perpetrator. Even if the person making the claim subsequently retracts, you have asserted that you verified the incident occurred and your duty of care takes precedent. It’s tough but you don’t really have a choice.

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