SEXUAL discrimination and harassment were the accusations made in a mock employment tribunal staged by a Basingstoke law firm.

Lamb Brooks invited local businesses to the event at The Forge, in The Anvil, to watch a staged production of an employment tribunal involving a real judge and lawyers from Outer Temple Chambers, in London, and staff from Lamb Brooks acting as the complainant and witnesses.

Those attending heard how George Felton, played by Joshua Rowlands, accused a junior member of staff, Helen Saunders, played by Hannah Lockyer, of sexually harassing him, with allegations including that she attempted to kiss him at an office Christmas party, made sexual comments including about the tailoring of his suit trousers and made unnecessary physical contact.

He also accused his employer, Widgets (UK) Limited, of direct sex discrimination which included allegations relating to the way his grievance was handled, claiming that he was treated less favourably because he is male.

The mock tribunal heard evidence from both Mr Felton and Ms Saunders, along with Tim Rogers, a senior manager who handled the grievance, played by Andrew Lowe.

They were questioned by lawyers Paul Livingston, acting on behalf of the claimant, and Emily Gordon Walker, acting on behalf of the respondent, with employment judge Keith Bryant QC chairing the tribunal.

Karen Bristow, head of employment at Lamb Brooks, said the aim of the event was to prepare employers and employees should they face an employment tribunal, following an increase in claims as a result of the #Metoo movement, which spread virally in October 2017 as a social media hashtag in an attempt to highlight the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, particularly in the workplace.

It followed sexual abuse allegations against former American film producer Harvey Weinstein.

She said: “It’s to show that companies think they are safe if they have a policy and HR person, but are they training their staff to identify warning signals and how to handle these things? A lot of the time in this economic climate it’s all about getting the money in and HR procedures fall by the wayside because it takes too much time.”

As the mock trial unfolded it became clear that Mr Rogers had not handled the matter properly, taking no notes at any grievance meetings; discussing the complaint with Ms Saunders in front of other staff in the office; and not carrying out any formal grievance investigation.

At the end the audience was asked to vote what they thought the outcome would be and the majority agreed that the claimant would win his case against his former employer, but there was uncertainty that he could prove he was subjected to sexual harassment.

Following the tribunal, judge Bryant and the two lawyers explained the positives and negatives of the witness testimonies, as well as what else to expect at a tribunal, before answering questions from the audience.

Mr Livingston explained that although his client reduced the risk of being tripped up by questioning through his short responses, he failed to show any emotion, which could result in a judge questioning the impact it had on his feelings when it came to awarding financial compensation.

While Ms Walker said the employer could have admitted to some of its mistakes rather than denying everything, and should have tried to prove the allegations were not sexually discriminating.

The judge agreed, saying: “It’s better sometimes for employers to put their hands up and say that since then they have come down on it like a ton of bricks.”

Mr Livingston warned employers to be proactive when dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, explaining: “If you are a mid-sized employer and you aren’t getting any sexual harassment complaints then it doesn’t mean you are a good employer. It probably means you have a culture where people don’t feel able to complain.”

He added: “You should be regularly training staff. Having a procedure gets you so far but it’s the training that counts.”

Ms Bristow agreed, adding: “Having the documentation is great but it’s living and breathing them and updating them. It’s embracing it and it’s key to train staff to foster a healthy environment.”

Afterward the tribunal attendees enjoyed refreshments in the foyer and were able to discuss the case and issues arising from it with each other, as well as those involved in the mock hearing.