The recent case surrounding the Liberal Democrats and how they dealt with Lord Rennard after sexual harassment accusations were made against him highlights some of the problems when dealing with such allegations. The widespread coverage of this story also raises important questions about how to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.
There has been a barrage of sexual harassment claims in the city involving senior executives in recent years. For example, two women claimed that they were hounded out of work by sexist and racist attitudes at the leading investment bank Nomura. They claimed that male bosses made inappropriate comments about their body and what they were wearing. They also claimed that discriminatory references against women were openly made. Nomura strongly denied the claims and the claims were ultimately thrown out by the employment tribunal.
Cases such as this highlight the difficulties faced by employers. Sexual harassment allegations can be a tricky area to investigate and employers have to make a judgment as to who and what to believe.
In the case of Lord Rennard, the allegations against him were not substantiated as it was necessary to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was guilty of sexual harassment. It also seemed necessary to prove that he intended to act in a sexually inappropriate manner. As a result he could not be expelled from the Liberal Democrat party, despite the fact that there appeared to be credible evidence of improper behaviour. Although his subsequent refusal to apologise for his actions did lead to him being suspended from the party, the Liberal Democrats were left open to criticism as many considered that the appropriate course of action should have been immediate expulsion from the party.
Fortunately for employers they do not have to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that sexual harassment has occurred, before being able to take disciplinary action against the alleged perpetrator. If an employer had to wait until it was proven beyond reasonable doubt that the allegations were true, it would create all types of problems in the workplace. The alleged victim could be left unprotected whilst still working in close quarters with the accused.
Instead, the evidential test in showing a dismissal was fair is simply whether the employer believed, and had reasonable grounds for believing that the employee was guilty. Likewise the intention behind the act is not central in establishing sexual harassment. It is the fact that the conduct is related to a person’s sex, or the sexual nature of the conduct, and the issue of whether the conduct violated the alleged victim’s dignity or created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them which determines whether the act constitutes sexual harassment.
Employers should have a policy in place so that employees know how to raise a sexual harassment complaint and how they can expect it to be dealt with. The grievance procedure can be used but larger employers will generally have a separate anti-harassment policy and procedure which caters specifically for complaints of this nature.
Where an allegation of sexual harassment is made an employer should:
- Discuss with the alleged victim whether the complaint can be resolved informally, either by the victim raising the issue with the person responsible or by someone else doing so on their behalf;
- failing that, the employer should investigate the complaint formally, speak to the alleged perpetrator and any witnesses on a confidential basis, and consider whether any steps are necessary to manage the working relationship between the victim and alleged perpetrator whilst the investigation continues;
- once the investigation is complete, the employer should decide whether it considers that sexual harassment has occurred;
- if it considers sexual harassment has occurred, the employer will need to deal with the perpetrator under the disciplinary procedure. Sexual harassment will normally be classed as a gross misconduct offence, meaning that the employer is entitled to dismiss without notice. Whilst in many cases dismissal will be the appropriate sanction, this will not always be the case. Jumping to a decision to dismiss without considering any mitigating factors could make the dismissal unfair;
- if the employee’s complaint is not upheld, the employer should consider how best to manage any on-going working relationship between the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator. It may be appropriate to arrange some form of mediation or counselling, or to change the duties, working location or reporting lines of one or both employees. Care is needed here as any detrimental treatment of the complainant could amount to unlawful victimisation under the Equality Act 2010 entitling them to bring an employment tribunal claim and receive compensation;
- if, however, the employer considers that the employee acted in bad faith in making their complaint, it is entitled to take disciplinary action against the employee in accordance with the disciplinary procedure. An employee who makes a false allegation in bad faith is not protected by the victimisation provisions in the Equality Act.
So provided an employer reasonably believes an employee to be guilty of sexual harassment, has carried out a reasonable investigation before coming to that belief and has conducted a fair disciplinary procedure, it should be able to take disciplinary action, including dismissal if this is considered an appropriate sanction. In many cases, but not all, dismissal will be the appropriate sanction.
Peter Doyle is Senior Partner at UK’s largest employment law firm, Doyle Clayton (www.doyleclayton.co.uk).
Safeguarding international logistics arrangements during the coronavirus crisis
By Adam Ewart, CEO and Founder of Send My Bag
It has certainly been a whirlwind couple of months. The coronavirus – which at the start of the year seemed like a distant, incomprehensible issue – has impacted virtually every aspect of everyday life. There are live outbreaks in every continent – bar Antarctica – forcing a significant proportion of the global population under some form of lockdown. This has, of course, had a significant impact on the day-to-day operations for industries across the global economy, including international logistics.
Pain points of international logistics sector under changing conditions
The international logistics industry was among the first to feel the pinch from coronavirus. Seven of the top nine container ports in the world are based in China, and the other two ports are in Singapore and South Korea. All three of these countries were hit early by the pandemic and shut down their borders to prevent the spread of the virus. But this has resulted in ships being unable to get into Chinese ports or not being able to load or discharge goods when they dock.
But it’s important to note that not all businesses in the vast international logistics sector have experienced exclusively negative impacts as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. For instance, Send My Bag saw a 1320% year-on-year increase in demand in March, as people started relocating to their home countries. Similarly, orders from Germany, Spain, and Netherlands also rose by 700%, 800% and 600% respectively as travel bans were introduced.
As a result, the business faced a slightly different challenge to other businesses in the international logistics sector – how to respond to a sudden increase in orders. Although our customer base is globally spread and customers use our service for a range of reasons, we do still find the summer months to be our busiest. As such we’ve become accustomed to dealing with seasonality and our customer service runs on flexible systems that can be scaled up or down. Therefore, when we experienced a large spike in orders in March, we shifted to our summer plan and implemented a wide range of measures to respond to the surge in demand, including changes to shifts and rolling out an overtime schedule. We also asked staff if they would like paid work as an option during their annual leave.
The importance of strong leadership and HR functions in crisis
Most importantly during this hectic period were the HR measures we implemented supported by a clear and transparent line of communication with staff. As talks of unemployment filled the news, before the government announced its job retention scheme, we told our entire team that no one would be laid off regardless of any decline in orders anticipated over the next 12 weeks.
There is so much anxiety amongst employees across a range of sectors which could adversely impact their ability to do their job and in turn, impact business performance at a crucial time. It is therefore vital that business leaders are up-front and honest with their employees and imbue them with the confidence needed to do their job to the best of their ability.
We’ve seen businesses both succeed and fail at this essential task during the crisis. For instance, Amazon has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, stretching from failing to provide adequate protection for its warehouse workers to its multi-billionaire owner asking the public to pay for Amazon drivers’ sick pay. Whereas, on the other side of the spectrum you have Jack Ma, co-founder of the Alibaba Group, who donated 1 million masks and 500,000 test kits to America and – via his foundation – sent supplies to over 60 countries, including several in Europe and every African nation.
Adapting to change
Aside from implementing an effective line of communication with staff, the best way business leaders can safeguard their international logistics arrangements in the current climate is by being flexible. In these extraordinary times, businesses mustn’t stick to what they know. You’ve got to be adaptable, flexible and willing to look at alternative ways to deploy your business.
Take Cainiao Smart Logistics Network, the logistics arm of Alibaba, as an example. The network teamed up with a dozen logistical partners to launch a ‘Green Channel’ initiative to expedite the fast and safe delivery of medical supplies throughout China. Not to be outdone by its close competitor, JD Logistics, another China-based logistics business, adapted its supply network and deployed autonomous ground robots for last-mile delivery of crucial supplies in the worst affected hospitals in Wuhan.
At Send My Bag, we had to navigate increased costs and transport restrictions imposed by nations in response to the coronavirus crisis. This included our partners needing to re-route orders when borders were closed – which was particularly prevalent in mainland Europe – and scheduling additional dedicated aircraft to complete our orders when there was a lack of commercial cargo space. Also, certain nations, such as South Africa, are currently only permitting international logistics networks to handle essential goods. To overcome these logistical issues, we had to be flexible and keep customers informed throughout.
Now, as the large spikes we experienced in March have plateaued to some extent, we have reverted back to our off-peak operation plan and are looking at different ways to use our capabilities. This included supporting an initiative to transport testing and PPE kits to frontline medics.
These are difficult and uncertain times for the international logistics industry. The supply lines that we rely on are being disrupted and some sectors are facing a drop in demand, whilst others are experiencing a spike. During these turbulent times, business leaders must be adaptable, show leadership and support their employees.
A holistic view of organisational security
By James Ward, Senior Cyber Consultant at MASS
The finance sector is typically more developed than others when it comes to implementing security measures. This is partly due to it being targeted by a diverse range of threat actors who are some of the most advanced, and also because the threat is so great – even the smallest breach has the potential for significant impact monetarily, or on market reputation, perception or confidence.
Ideally, an organisation’s critical assets should be surrounded by layer upon layer of security measures, all working together so that if one layer is removed or breached, the business’ most valuable assets are not compromised. Too often however, organisations take a siloed approach to security – viewing physical, cyber and personnel security as separate entities, where in fact they are more inter-related than many imagine.
It’s therefore vitally important that security measures are considered holistically and are led and understood by senior management, otherwise gaps for exploitation can be found by intelligent and experienced actors, supported by an ever-growing arsenal of exploitation technology.
Based on the approach MASS takes with public sector and defence organisations, we’ll now consider the security measures which should combine as part of a holistic approach.
It might seem obvious, but the first and fundamental consideration should be physical access to a site. For all organisations, this step remains vital – even in the finance industry where physical security principles have long been established.
You should consider the basic question of how an intruder could gain access, starting by reviewing the ‘perimeter’ controls. Indeed, organisations should even question what their perimeter is. With the potential for distributed site facilities, linked remote assets, and supply chain dependencies, this simple question must be answered.
To define where a ‘perimeter’ really lies, the use of scenario-based analysis, threat actor personas, motivations and objectives can be useful. It’s also an invaluable methodology for exposing how an organisation could be exploited.
The physical security stage should also involve a review of physical controls such as fencing, access technology, CCTV coverage etc., including their role in the deterrence and detection of hostile reconnaissance activities. Disrupting the planning cycle of attacks is often overlooked relative to direct prevention of unauthorised access.
That being said, security measures can only be as effective as the people applying them, so an understanding of human behaviours is essential. It’s important to consider how people’s actions affect overall site security and to question why these actions occur.
Simple mistakes like staff wearing security badges in the street could lead to unforeseen issues while poor motivation or effectiveness of roving security staff or those monitoring CCTV may also cause warning signs to be missed, demonstrating that innocent human mistakes could form the seed of future security breaches.
The finance sector’s cyber resilience has advanced considerably, as it’s adapted to threats over the years. But the evolution of the finance industry itself poses new challenges; businesses range considerably in size and new forms of financial transactions provide new opportunities for cyber exploitation. Exploitation toolsets and associated managed services are now more readily available at a lower cost, reducing the financial and technical barriers to advanced cyber-attacks.
The levels of cyber security in the financial sector must be retained, taken to a new level, and existing assumptions continually challenged.
For example, penetration testing regimes are a vital tool in mitigating network cyber risk (including ‘CBEST’ which has been widely rolled out across the finance sector) but have limitations given they are just a snapshot in time. They offer us a valuable depth of analysis within a network but can be constrained in breadth of scope and potentially leave vulnerability blind spots. Very frequent, lighter-touch cyber assessments can fill this gap as they offer a more dynamic view of ongoing vulnerabilities over a wider proportion of the estate, which could represent ‘low hanging fruit’ for the cyber actor. Assessments can be enhanced by applying modern threat intelligence techniques to rapidly identify existing compromises and potential weaknesses (including personnel and corporate digital footprint). This establishes a picture of cyber posture and vulnerabilities before any testing taking place.
End-user device security is also often viewed in terms of its encryption strength, keys etc. Modern methods of fault injection attack (a device’s response to artificially applied ‘fault conditions’ used to derive security credentials), though are able to bypass these assumed security measures, whereas it would take decades to ‘crack’ using more traditional computer power. This means it becomes important to test a device’s vulnerability to fault injection, rather than falling back on the old assumptions for protection.
To take a holistic view, it’s also important to examine the wider supply chain. The finance sector relies heavily on a network of suppliers of digital telecommunications and energy services, and when a network this complex is interconnected, it’s challenging to pinpoint cyber resilience risks. However, identifying ‘hot-spot’ concentrations of dependencies that represent single-point failures within the complexity of the overall business can allow you to filter the complex information and establish risk effectively.
The insider threat
Those who might misuse legitimate access to an organisation’s assets for unauthorised purposes are known as insiders and their threat is often overlooked when considering the overall cyber risk.
For those in the financial sector, personal financial gain could be a particular incentive to potential insiders, while security controls are now so effective that one of the only ways to circumvent them is for hostile actors to exploit those with legitimate access. It can help to think of insider threat as the ‘grand master skeleton key’ of security, as the right insider, or team of insiders can overcome almost all security measures. Security compromises involving insiders also tend to have a disproportionately high business impact.
Yet many organisations overlook insider risk, assuming that pre-employment screening is enough to deter employees and failing to recognise the wide range of risks from genuine human error, through to orchestrated insider activity by paid professionals. Insider cases are typically individuals who have been with an organisation for some years and could have had a personal vulnerability exploited or exposed, or simply become disgruntled with their employer.
It’s a broad area to address and can be more challenging to enforce than other security measures. Internal governance, security culture, employee wellbeing, employment measures, corporate digital footprint, and perceived employee sentiment are some of the aspects that should be considered. Once these internal factors have been addressed, organisations should then make the same assessment of their supply chains.
If the business is sufficiently committed to its security, structured analytical methods can quantify their maturity and assess where the key vulnerabilities and risks could lie. This extra level of understanding can enable improvement, and when it comes to security even small changes can make a big difference.
Consider your dependencies
It’s clear that security is a vast network comprising many different aspects and as such, if not considered collectively, some areas can fall through the cracks.
All businesses have particular dependencies which shouldn’t be overlooked. Your own environment may be protected, but if data is shared with suppliers or partners, is it still secure? If a supplier or partner has a security breach, does that affect your operation?
When assessing security measures, it’s essential to go an extra layer deeper and consider how a range of factors could impact your organisation and its readiness to respond to an incident.
At MASS, our security experts consist of professionals with extensive experience in preventing security breaches and performing assessments in accordance with Ministry of Defence processes, so that we can ensure our security analysis meets and exceeds industry best practice.
The UnRefundables: Shoppers left out of pocket post-pandemic
- One in ten shoppers (11%) left out of pocket or without refunds since pandemic
- One in three shoppers (36%) actively avoiding purchasing due to refund worries
- Clothes, hotel bookings, flights and electronics top list of UnRefundable items
New consumer research commissioned by Visa has revealed a sharp increase in people unable to access returns or refunds for items bought during lockdown, with one in ten (11%) of those who requested money back still waiting for, or denied access, to a refund or voucher – a 215% increase from pre-pandemic times.
These items, coined “UnRefundables”, have left millions of concerned shoppers out of pocket. Of those that were able to access refunds for their items, one in five (20%) only received partial refunds, through cash or vouchers.
The consumer survey of 2,000 UK respondents and conducted by Opinium, revealed returns and refund requests have increased by 16% since the start of the pandemic, as more than two fifths (41%) of shoppers tried to return and refund items, services or events. Almost half (49%) of people who experienced refund issues didn’t get to use their purchase – receiving faulty or incorrect goods, items not arriving, products not being as advertised, being charged multiple times or billed the incorrect amount, or a purchase that wasn’t authorized.
UnRefundable fear putting pause on consumer spending
The research revealed that frustrations regarding refunds could have knock-on effects for British businesses, with over a third (36%) saying they have avoided making big purchases due to fears their money would not be returned and a quarter (28%) are more worried about securing a refund since the pandemic started.
Despite now being able to travel abroad and within the UK, there is increased concern amongst consumers making travel related purchases. In fact, one in three (34%) respondents say they are worried about a travel booking being refunded due to a local lockdown or “second peak” of the virus.
This follows a big increase in people trying to get refunds on flights and hotel bookings, with a fifth (22%) saying they have had more difficulties trying to get money back on cancelled holidays and events.
Why can’t Brits access refunds?
Over two fifths (43%) have been deterred from requesting a refund for an item, service or event at all – citing confusion about the returns process (15%), lack of time for the process (10%), the return window (also 10%), as well as no access to a printer for return labels (8%) as key pain points. Worryingly, one in 10 (10%) were not able to contact the company to pursue a refund.
The refund wait time has also increased notably during lockdown, with 12% saying it took over a month to get their money back compared to 7% who got a refund beforehand. Older people (aged 55+) are experiencing the biggest wait for refunds, with 5% waiting over a month before the pandemic, compared to 17% who have experienced this wait time since.
Visa has teamed up with personal finance expert Jasmine Birtles to allay consumers’ fears of being left out-of-pocket over the summer.
Jasmine Birtles commented: “If you bought something online that’s not up to scratch or hasn’t turned up, but the seller won’t budge or they’ve gone out of business, it can be tempting to chalk it up to a poor purchase decision or simply bad luck. With money a particular worry for many households currently, it’s important to research your refund options – you don’t always have to accept rescheduled dates or vouchers for equal or lesser amounts that leave you out of pocket and inconvenienced.
“If, after speaking to the retailer, you are still unable to get a refund, there are alternatives available to claw back those costs. You should contact your bank that issued your Visa card and ask them to pursue a chargeback claim, where they may be able to submit a claim to the retailer’s bank to request your money back. You can pursue a chargeback claim if you received only a partial refund, goods that weren’t as described, or have been offered alternative refund methods, including vouchers, points and rebooking. Your bank has 120 days from when the payment was made to make a chargeback claim, which is great news for people who might have missed the returns window. However, it’s worth noting that banks’ timeframes may vary and it’s best to file a dispute as early as possible to allow plenty of time. For travel, concert tickets or future-dated items, this time limit begins on the day of the event or holiday booking – providing extra reassurance to those worried about making holiday purchases.”
Jeni Mundy, UK & Ireland Managing Director, Visa, commented: “With consumer spending crucial to Britain’s economic recovery, it’s concerning to see that people are worried about securing refunds should they need to, and that in some cases this is even preventing them from making purchases. It’s important that people understand the many options open to them to get their money back should something go wrong. A good place to start is to get familiar with a seller’s cancellation, refund and exchange policy before you buy – this can often be easily found on their website. Another good way to put yourself in the driving seat when it comes to getting your money back is to pay using a Visa debit or credit card – this opens you up to the option of making a chargeback claim or provides credit card protection to ensure you aren’t left out of pocket.”
Visa’s UnRefundables: Top items being returned
- Clothes, shoes and accessories (31%)
- Hotel bookings (21%)
- Flights (20%)
- Theatre tickets (14%)
- Electronics (14%)
- Food and drink (10%)
- Home appliances (10%)
- Concerts (9%)
- Furniture & home furnishings (9%)
- Sporting goods (8%)
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