Public Health England Investigation
Professor X worked for the then Public Health England (‘PHE’). Concerns were raised, and so a cultural inquiry review was arranged in relation to workplace culture and behaviour. An external agency was appointed to conduct the review and identify the causes of the concerns that had been raised.
Following this review, a number of failures were identified in relation to several members of the PHE team but specifically highlighted Professor X’s role in a negative light by stipulating that members of staff had been bullied by Professor X. Further concerns were also raised about Professor X through PHE’s ‘Speak Up’ process, and so an employment investigation was opened under the relevant PHE policies and a case investigator and case manager were appointed. The allegations fell into three broad categories of bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination, and failure of leadership. It was hoped that the investigation report would provide the case manager with sufficient information to provide advice to the Responsible Officer regarding the next steps to be taken in the case.
Professor X had a meeting with their line manager, as well as their line manager’s line manager. This meeting was framed as a “catch-up” meeting, and so Professor X was not accompanied by anyone to the meeting. During the meeting, Professor X was verbally informed that they would be required to step down from their role on the basis that allegations had been made. Professor X never received any formal letter confirming the exclusion.
Professor X was concerned about the conduct of the investigation, specifically in relation to procedural irregularities, issues with communication and misconduct, conflicts of interest, and the lack of transparency and detail relating to the Terms of Reference.
MDS ADVICE & OUTCOME
The in-house legal team reviewed the matter and were able to pick up on several irregularities and concerns in relation to the conduct of the investigation and the Terms of Reference. Therefore, MDS took advice from Counsel and used this to write a letter to the appointed External Independent Person (EIP) raising concerns regarding the investigation.
The team also helped Professor X in preparing a statement and collating evidence for an investigation meeting with the case investigator, and this allowed Professor X to demonstrate some insight into the concerns raised.
MDS reviewed the investigation report and was able to provide advice to Professor X regarding the next steps, and a strategy moving forward.
Following the investigation, the RO decided that no further disciplinary action would be taken although there were still some issues that would need to be addressed through line management action. It was determined that informal action would be taken by way of a capability discussion to put in place a development plan addressing Professor X’s leadership skills. Overall, it was a positive outcome which Professor X was happy with.
- Getting professional advice from your Defence organisation can help you understand your position better.
- It is in your best interests to get your Defence organisation involved in a matter as soon as possible after concerns have been raised.
- A good witness statement and well presented evidence can be very favourable to a case, particularly where a practitioner is able to demonstrate insight.