Ed Eckstein/Getty Images
Employers should be under a mandatory duty to presume that women making allegations of sexual harassment against bosses or colleagues are telling the truth, a prominent lawyer says today.
The controversial call for a change in employment rules has set specialist lawyers at odds with each other as those acting for employers argue that such a radical move would overturn a fundamental principle of English law: the presumption of innocence.
But Kiran Daurka, partner at the London law firm Leigh Day, argued that the recent allegations of sexual harassment and rape made against the Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein have highlighted a fear among women that their allegations will not be believed. Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex.
Ms Daurka said that the global social media hashtag #metoo, which has emerged in the wake of the Weinstein allegations and is used by women to highlight their own experiences, should be matched by a #webelieveyou approach from employers. “Where there has been more than one complaint against an individual, there should be a presumption of truth as to the facts presented by the complainant,” she said in an article for The Brief.
Ms Daurka alleged that “at present, employers permit a culture in which women who make difficult disclosures about their experiences are doubted”. She told The Brief that the “starting point” for many employers when dealing with allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace is that “the women complainants are being vindictive”.
However, her comments have sparked controversy within the legal profession, with some suggesting that her arguments are reminiscent of the approach by the Metropolitan police when investigating allegations of a VIP paedophile ring in Westminster. At the time the police said that claims of abuse made by an anonymous man known as “Nick” were “credible and true”. A report by Sir Richard Henriques, the retired High Court judge, sharply criticised the police for falling for “false allegations”.
Other employment law specialists dismissed Ms Daurka’s proposals as “dangerous and wrong”. Ronnie Fox, the founder of Fox, a specialist employment law firm in the City of London, said that forcing bosses to start investigations from a position of believing the complainant “overlooks the fact that it is well established that people make complaints at work for all sorts of motives. Sometimes complainants are malicious, sometimes they are simply misguided”.
Mr Fox also argued that amending employment rules in that way would “bring workplace investigations into disrepute” and as a result trigger waves of satellite litigation in the courts.