Written by Eliza Nash, Constantine Law

Huw Edwards’ resignation earlier this week on grounds of ill-health poses wider questions around the shortcomings of internal workplace investigations. Edwards, the BBC’s most senior news presenter, was suspended on full pay (upwards of £435,000) in July 2023, following allegations which included paying a teenager for sexually explicit images. Nine months later an internal investigation into whether he brought the broadcaster into disrepute is still ongoing.

Justice Denied?

The resignation before the conclusion of the investigation raises the question of whether lengthy internal workplace investigations into serious matters run the risk of denying justice to either the claimants or the alleged perpetrators.

From a victim’s point of view, having an alleged perpetrator suspended on full pay for that length of time and still no resolution to the complaints is highly unsatisfactory and may deter people from making complaints. Equally, if someone has been wrongly accused, having those kinds of allegations hanging over them is equally unsatisfactory and can cause irreparable reputational damage.

What can Employers Learn from This?

The lessons from this incident are clear: companies need to look to prioritise serious complaints, particularly those of a sexual nature,  and make sure they are being dealt with by the appropriate persons and in a timely fashion. This will become even more important when the duty on employers to take proactive steps to prevent their employees being sexually harassed comes into force later this year.  Processes need to be sharpened up – whilst meticulous investigation and interviewing of witnesses is time-consuming, with appropriate processes in place, this does not need to take several months. Where an individual is suffering from mental or physical health issues, it should still be possible to conduct an investigation – accommodations can and should be made to involve all parties in the process. In the Edwards case, the BBC has already had to apologise to a complainant about the delay in escalating their complaint and acknowledged “specific process shortcomings”.

The BBC, in its  statement, accepted Edwards’ resignation, “which it believes will allow all parties to move forward”. This may be wishful thinking on their part. It would be understandable if the complainants feel  that the slow and ponderous BBC processes have allowed Edwards to leave on his own terms, avoiding having to face the outcome of a fair and proper investigation.

 

About the author

Eliza Nash is an Employment Partner at employment and regulatory specialist law firm Constantine Law