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Backlash from Post Office scandal prompts major HR lessons

Backlash from Post Office scandal prompts major HR lessons
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

ITV’s depiction of the Horizon Post Office scandal in Mr Bates vs The Post Office has left viewers shocked by the scale of cover up and conduct of senior leadership

The drama shows the prosecution of hundreds of sub-post masters who were accused of stealing thousands of pounds. It was later discovered that discrepancies in the accounting were down to an issue with the Horizon computer system rather than theft, although this was not disclosed to employees, whose lives were ruined. People were wrongfully imprisoned, bankrupted, and suicidal, and have been fighting for years to clear their names.

Kate Palmer, Employment Services Director at Peninsula, says, “The post office scandal is an essential step-by-step guide to employers on what not to do when carrying out an internal investigation and highlights the devastating impact that it can have on employees.

“It’s vital that the correct processes and procedures are followed to ensure that you act fairly and properly before taking any disciplinary action. Collate and review all evidence, including witness statements and any relevant documentation. These should also be provided to the employee ahead of any disciplinary hearing to allow them to prepare their response.

“All evidence provided by the employee should be fully considered before any hearing is held. It may sometimes be necessary to delay the hearing to give you enough time to look at all the information in detail and weigh up all the factors involved. It’s important to keep an open mind and not rush to judgement. But do not delay unnecessarily. An employee who is under investigation will be wanting the situation resolved rather than hanging over them for weeks, months, or – as seen here – years.

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“An HR investigation doesn’t automatically mean that an employee has done what is being alleged. If the employee’s version of events offers a reasonable alternative explanation for what happened, this should be fully explored even if it would appear to contradict any long established understanding that you have of your processes. If the investigation results in a finding that the employee hasn’t acted in the way alleged, this should be clearly communicated to the employee in question along with a reassurance that the matter is closed and thanking them for their co-operation. Any loss of earnings suffered during the investigation will need to be addressed.

“As we saw in Mr Bates vs The Post Office the employees who were accused faced an immense amount of mental turmoil throughout the investigation. Many were prosecuted, others faced bankruptcy, racked up huge debts and suffered severe depression. Others committed suicide or died before they could see justice.

“There was a huge lack of transparency from the Post Office throughout the investigation with employees left in the dark or lied to about why the money was missing from their accounts. 

“In this case, the mistake was down to an IT error. The Post Office’s failure to admit wrongdoing throughout the investigation process, despite them reportedly knowing the truth, has caused further stress on top of an already distressing situation for the sub-post masters.

“Organisations should keep in mind that going through an investigative process can be a very stressful time for employees, especially if there is no wrongdoing. Remember that employers have a duty of care for their employees, so regardless of whether or not they are under investigation, make sure to put the correct measures in place to help support their health and wellbeing, such as signposting them to your EAP service or providing additional support where needed.”

For more information on misconduct investigations, visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like Do I have to let an employee bring a companion to a disciplinary investigation meeting?

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