What can businesses learn in light of the CBI scandal?
Partner Victoria Willson discusses the recent misconduct scandal at the CBI, and what businesses can learn in light of this, in The Times.
Despite workplace behaviour having massively improved since #metoo, serious sexual misconduct allegations, such as those at the CBI, illustrate that such changes have regrettably not resulted in the complete elimination of bad behaviour in the workplace.
Although Mr Danker’s recent dismissal demonstrates that the CBI wants to be seen to be acting decisively, the CBI confirmed that a formal complaint was received about his behaviour in January and an investigation took place at that point. It is therefore unclear why, given Mr Danker’s recent dismissal which appears to be for gross misconduct, the initial investigation did not result in his dismissal much sooner.
To avoid successful employment tribunal claims, employers should avoid knee-jerk reactions and follow the correct process. Before simply reacting to press reports or pressure from stakeholders or third parties to dismiss there should be an investigation, which is a key aspect in dealing with misconduct allegations. Where the allegations are particularly serious or, such as here, the effect on the employee will be significant, the investigation has to be handled particularly carefully. This is especially so where the allegations, which are in large part denied by Mr Danker, are disputed and some predate his tenure.
Although there has now been an independent investigation, it appears that the CBI has not followed the proper procedures before dismissing Mr Danker. This would typically involve inviting an employee to a disciplinary meeting with sufficient details of the allegations being provided so that they can respond to them. Typically the employee would be provided with a copy of the investigation report. Mr Danker said he would be invited to provide his position on the second investigation, and it appears that this has not been done.
It is therefore of note that the CBI has determined that Mr Danker’s conduct fell short of that expected of the Director General. However, when assessing whether a dismissal is unfair in the context of an unfair dismissal claim before an employment tribunal, an employer only needs to have a genuine belief in the employee's misconduct; the belief does not have to be correct or justified.
What happens next with three other CBI employees who have been suspended pending a further investigation will also be telling. By making public statements such as this, if such employees are disciplined or dismissed, the CBI could be criticised for having pre-determined the outcome or at least giving this impression. This could then lead to successful employment tribunal claims.
We will await whether the CBI can recover from the scandal with Mr Danker having said last week he had been made "the fall guy" and his "reputation has been totally destroyed".
Victoria's article was published in The Times, 27 April 2023, and can be found here.