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What can HR learn from the Sue Gray report?

The long-anticipated investigation report into 15 events in and around Downing Street during COVID lockdown has been published by senior civil servant Sue Gray on Thursday 25th May 2022. Whilst it may seem that the whole nation has been on ‘tender hooks’ for the report to be published to the public, employers are able to consider the lessons that can be learnt for HR professionals when dealing with alleged conduct issues at work.

‘Do as I say, not as I do’

Most notably, contained within Sue Gray’s report, she comments that “some of the more junior civil servants believed that their involvement in some of these events was permitted given the attendance of senior leaders.” It is crucial for management within any organisation to uphold any values, beliefs or policies, in order to have an ability to uphold these. Where management are seen to have ‘flaunt’ the rules, this can disrupt the organisation’s ability to enforce rules further down the line.  Some managers have been known to have said “do as I say, not as I do” however it is crucial for managers to be seen to lead by example them in day-to-day activities, to have a defence for dealing with conduct issues in the future.

Don’t sit on it

The original investigation to look into the report was instigated on the 27th November and was then expanded upon as further allegations came to light. Whilst this was some time since the initial alleged parties, this report was instigated promptly once the allegations had been reported in the media. Likewise, it is crucial for any HR investigation to commence timely as soon as any alleged acts of misconduct are reported to ensure a thorough, uninterrupted, and fair investigation. When investigating an Employee Relations mater delays are sometimes be unavoidable, whether that be due to annual leave, sickness or other extenuating circumstances. However, any delays in the investigation should be detailed in the final investigation report to explain the rationale for this.  Where delays could be found to have been unreasonable, this may limit possible action which could be taken by management, and in some scenarios, management may be seen to have allowed the breach to have occurred.

Blowing the whistle

Given that the reported lockdown parties involved a senior leadership team, it is understandable how junior members of a workforce may feel uncomfortable escalating genuine concerns to an appropriate person within the organisation.

All employers must ensure that they have a robust grievance policy with a clear route to escalate purported concerns above the manager which they are raising the concern about.

Furthermore, where the concerns which they wish to raise may impact a number of people, may relate to actions which would be unlawful or are in the public interest to raise, employers should ensure that a whistleblowing policy is available for all employees to utilise when needed. Employees need to be aware that when they raise such concerns and ‘blow the whistle’, that they can do so in knowledge that the concerns would be taken seriously, investigated, and no determent will occur to them as a result for doing so.

Boozy workplace events

Sue Gray highlights within her report of the culture within Downing Street of excessive alcohol consumption and comments that “The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time.”  This highlights the need for employers to think wisely about setting clear boundaries of social events, particularly around workplace events such as summer or Christmas parties. In these scenarios, it is easy for employers to have their fingers burnt with grievances or conduct matters to investigate.

In conclusion, whilst ‘Party gate’ does not seem to be going away anytime soon, organisations can apply the principles it has raised to ensure that any employee relations matter it may face, are dealt with promptly and appropriately.

In the event of needing an external consultant to investigate a matter for you, the People Projects team are available to handle the matter on your behalf or in the capacity as HR support to reduce the risk and ensure you remain compliant. To find out more about how we can help you and for a tailored quote, please contact either a member of the People Projects Team or the Employment and HR Team for further details.

10 Downing STreet