Resolution Blog by Lesley Allport and Katherine Graham.
We trust ourselves to be fair-minded. We’re not ones to leap to conclusions. But whenever it comes to other people, our prejudices – and a pretty basic lack of knowledge – are what tend to rule. It’s just like when anything goes wrong at work: if it involves us we immediately think in terms of mitigating circumstances; when it’s someone else we assume they’re probably just the kind of person who makes mistakes.
A recent employment tribunal has shown how problematic this can be. A primary school teacher who was openly gay had been given a written warning back in 2002, accused of ‘inappropriate and unprofessional’ contact with a pupil. An agreement had been made that the teacher wouldn’t be left alone with a pupil unless it was in a public area. Years later, in 2015, the headteacher came across the teacher alone with a male pupil, offering them a packet of Rolos.
An investigation was carried out by the school into allegations that he’d breached the agreement and was involved in a further inappropriate situation. There were a string of disciplinary hearings over months, during which time the accused teacher was suspended. Critically, the investigation decided that his “actions could be considered to constitute the early stages of grooming”.
The tribunal found that although the teacher had occasionally made misjudgements, the school’s response had been out of proportion with the events themselves. There had been an underlying assumption that because the teacher was gay he was also likely to be a paedophile – an unfounded conclusion, and one that wouldn’t have been made so quickly if the teacher had been heterosexual. The school had seemed to make up its mind in spite of the facts, and even allowed the headteacher to play a major part in the investigation team.
When a situation at work is serious enough to require a formal investigation, it’s critical that the employer can prove they’ve taken a professional approach:
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