Uber fires staff for harassment – a good idea?

Yes, undoubtedly. Uber will have weighed up the risk of Tribunal claims for unfair dismissal against the risk of harassment claims arising from doing nothing. Nonetheless they are trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted.  The allegations against Uber have gone to the core, with the Chief Executive now resigning.

Claims of bullying and harassment are very bad news. Ignore them and you can face “breach of contract” claims or various harassment claims under the Equality Act. Take action and you can also find yourself in court relying on slender evidence and counter claims of the harasser being “framed”.

So what to do?

Address your organisation’s culture

In a small organisation the culture of the organisation is driven from the top. Values, language, what is rewarded and what is not, cascade down the organisation. Employees tend to take their values and behaviour from how they are treated by those above and, in turn, it tends to characterise how they treat your customers. Your example and influence can go a long way to avoiding harassment arising.

Training

Nevertheless, bullying often arises from supervisors or managers who do not know how to motivate others. Harassment typically arises from ignorance or that organisational culture already mentioned.

Training can achieve two objectives. It can show managers how to motivate and handle difficult employees, without bullying them. It also provides a defence that you, as an employer, have taken steps to avoid harassment or bullying happening in your organisation.

Policies

Policies set out standards and guide employees as to what is expected. An Equal Opportunities policy, a Bullying and harassment policy and a Grievance policy all protect you, as an employer, from claims of sanctioning inappropriate behaviour.

Induction

Attention should be drawn to the above policies at induction and there should be a record of doing so. It is a golden opportunity to set out the culture expected in your organisation.

If necessary, take action early on

Nipping problems “in the bud” is always the best approach. Training should help. But letting bullying or harassment getting to the point of no return is, as said above, bad news. The policies above need to contain procedures so that remedies can be found. Often a serious “bully” or harasser is a victim themselves and needs help. An example of a suitable remedy can be training in anger management. Such courses are available on line with supporting certificates for those who follow the full course.

Follow procedures

Serious action, especially dismissal, against an employee requires a precise procedure of which thorough investigation is a critical part. You can do it yourself, but it can be challenging with counter allegations, reluctant witnesses, claims of “framing” and sometimes threats of violence. It is better to enlist the services of an HR professional.

Time will tell whether Uber finds itself in UK Tribunals defending unfair dismissal claims. But there are limits to compensation for unfair dismissal. There are no such limits to compensation for harassment. By dismissing those guilty of harassment they reduce their risks.

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