30 January 2018

Employment law conference hears that integrity matters more than ever

High-profile cases in the international media relating to improper or inappropriate workplace conduct highlight the vital importance of individuals and organisations ensuring that they act with integrity in all aspects of how they operate, says Carey Olsen partner Elaine Gray.

Advocate Gray, who was speaking at a half-day conference on employment law issues hosted by Carey Olsen and the Guernsey Training Agency (GTA), said it was important to appreciate that unacceptable workplace conduct not only reflected on the individual employees who conducted themselves badly, but could also reflect systemic issues in organisations, with leaders setting the culture. As such, leaders have a responsibility to act in accordance with those standards and to enforce them if they see that the standards are not being upheld, not only when staff raise issues or complaints.

"We have seen an increase in requests for advice recently from employers wondering how to deal with employee conduct that is questionable," said Advocate Gray.

"Intriguingly, we had already seen an increase in claims that had a focus on the integrity of an individual even before the tidal wave of news reports coming out of Hollywood, London and elsewhere and which started making the headlines. The news reports demonstrate a growing willingness on the part of employees to stand up and report failures in integrity and to call upon their employers to ensure that there are appropriate and effective standards in place that work colleagues should comply with.

"At the same time, organisations need to ensure that staff are treated with integrity when bringing an issue to their attention, for example by taking the complaint seriously and investigating it robustly and via a fair process that doesn't undermine any of the parties involved."

The event was attended by a significant number of representatives from Guernsey businesses and examined the role of integrity in the modern employment relationship with a particular focus on the financial services sector through the use of speaker role-play, group discussion and short presentations.

Delegates were presented with a fictional scenario following a relatively young trust company finding itself caught up in an online news scandal involving a rogue employee’s increasingly unscrupulous behaviour, including allegations of facilitating tax-evasion for one of their foreign clients, compounded by other unacceptable workplace conduct. Throughout the proceedings, members of the audience were invited to vote on how they would address various situations.

Speakers included Carey Olsen employment partners Elaine Gray and Mark Dunster, counsel Huw Thomas and Carly Parrott, together with Simon Gaudion, Director of Enforcement Division at the Guernsey Financial Services Commission (GFSC), Vijay Rathour, Head of Digital Forensics at Grant Thornton and Peter Woodward, the former Convenor of the Guernsey Employment and Discrimination Tribunal Service. 

Mr Gaudion said the event and the fictional scenario it centred on around illegal business activity had demonstrated that ensuring integrity in the regulated space was of paramount importance.

"Keeping the Commission informed from the start of an investigation process is vital, especially if the Bailiwick's reputation may be brought into question," he said.

"By all means businesses should carry on with their internal investigation but they shouldn't do that in isolation. Informing your supervisory contact at the Commission at the earliest opportunity on how you are intending to resolve the issue shows that as a regulated financial institution you are operating in accordance with principle 10 of the GFSC's Principles of Conduct of Finance Business."