Roshni is the Urdu word for “light”. In June 2002 millionaire Ali Khan founded the charity of that name which is based in Glasgow. Its stated objectives are: “The advancement of education; the advancement of citizenship or community development; the relief of those in need by reason of age, ill health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage”. Its intended beneficiaries include children and young people and people of a particular ethnic or racial origin.
Misconduct within the charity became the focus of attention when an employee rejected advances towards her by Mr Khan, a married father of two. According to an Employment Tribunal, sitting in Glasgow, the situation deteriorated when Mr Khan attempted to turn the employee’s family against her. He threatened to turn up unannounced at her mother’s house to reveal an alleged affair between them.
The employee was so concerned by Mr Khan’s behaviour that she had a priority emergency police phone line installed at her home.
Mr Khan reacted to the rejection of his advances by reducing the employee’s working hours and she was issued with a final written warning. These actions were accompanied a campaign of physical and verbal abuse including making sexually explicit remarks, threatening to “post a video of them online”, to disclose intimate details of her private life, isolate her in the community and “damage her prospects”.
A clinical psychologist diagnosed that the employee had been left with major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Tribunal noted that the charity did nothing to stop the catalogue of abuse. It found that the Mr Khan’s threats left her feeling “very depressed, low and upset as well as powerless” and that she suffered “a lengthy and sustained series of acts of victimisation”. She was left in a constant state of “fear for her personal safety”. She was awarded compensation amounting to £90,000.
However, the charity has shown a notable lack of contrition following the Tribunal findings. The Tribunal noted that Mr Khan continued to be involved in the charity after the allegations came to light. Employment Judge Emma Bell commented in the judgment that the Tribunal:
…wish[es] to record [its] disappointment that a charity which uses public funds to raise awareness about abuse finds it acceptable to allow the chief perpetrator of the very grave acts of victimisation to continue his involvements in the activities of the organisation…
The Tribunal ordered that Roshni must carry out urgent re-training of its staff, with particular emphasis on “sexual and religious” harassment, also directing that Mr Khan should play no part in the appointment of the external consultants brought in to conduct the re-training.
Although at no time during the tribunal process did Mr Khan or anyone on his behalf defend his actions, a spokeswoman for the charity said that it was “very disappointed” by the outcome. She continued:
Roshni does not agree with the ultimate conclusions of the tribunal and would have appealed against it, had it had the resources to do that.
As well as dealing with the legal elements of this case we have had to consider cultural and wider relationship issues which have clearly had a wider impact than the employer/employee relationship.
In retrospect the case was not as well defended as it ought to have been. Two members of the Roshni staff had a relationship which ultimately led to an employment tribunal.
At no time were the trustees aware of this.
I think that it is reasonable to observe that those responsible for conducting the re-training have a challenge on their hands!
Although many charities go to considerable lengths to ensure that their provision of HR and employment services is exemplary, it has to be said that there are some whose arrangements concerning staff leave a lot to be desired. Quite often volunteers occupy senior positions and many charities are subject to severe financial constraints which militate against the recruitment or use of employment professionals. As this case demonstrates, the consequences of having inadequate systems and procedures in place can be very serious, not just for the employee who was subjected to such appalling behaviour, but to the charity itself, whose future in now thought to be in doubt, both as a result of the financial award and in terms of a referral to the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR).
At CLB Employment Solutions we have a great deal of experience in providing employment law support services for charities. We are sensitive to the particular organisational needs of charities, particularly when dealing with the interaction between employees and volunteers and in ensuring appropriate governance. If you are interested in our employment law services for charities please send me an email to email@example.com or call me on direct dial 0151 239 1003.