In many personal cases, particularly those relating to bullying and harassment, witnesses are a vital part of proving the case: supporting statements from witnesses add weight to the evidence of wrongdoing.
It is important, therefore, to identify potential witnesses at an early stage of the process and to support those witnesses, to ensure that they are able and prepared to offer that support to the case.
Many workers may reluctant to come forward to act as witnesses – they may be concerned that this will mark them out for reprisals by management or other workers. It is no good to simply tell them that this won’t happen – you will need to convince them that PCS will be there to support them if any such things occur. It is also worth reminding them that it is only by standing together that the union has strength and this means supporting other members when they have problems at work.
In discrimination cases, there are specific protections in law against victimisation – which means being treated less favourably because, amongst other things, you have acted as a witness for someone in a discrimination case.
Get any potential witnesses to write down what they have seen at an early stage – the closer to the date of an incident that a report is written, the more difficult it is for others to challenge whether the recollections are accurate.
Some grievance and discipline processes will allow witnesses to be heard as part of the process. Reassure them that they are only being asked to say what they saw or heard. If there is likely to be any cross-examination, explain that they only have to say what they know. If they don’t know the answer to a question, then that is all they have to say in answer to it.