Order! Order! Bullies beware..

22nd October 2018 Employment

Dame Laura Cox’s Report entitled ‘The bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff’ was published earlier this week, and presents a damning indictment on the current state of affairs within Parliament. Just 24 hours after the Report’s publication, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, confirmed that he would be stepping down in the summer of 2019. The Report highlighted the fact that the House is a place of work, and although it has some unusual features, it is in essence a place where over 2000 people are employed, all of whom are owed a duty of care by their employer.

It was identified that not only was there a lack of support given to those who have been bullied, harassed or sexually harassed in the House, but that a culture had developed whereby this conduct was actively covered up. A contributor to the Report expressed concerns that the “culture of the senior administration is generally to bury their heads in the sand and to hope that the problem goes away„. This resulted in a situation where members of senior management were widely aware of allegations, but failed to act and allowed working conditions to deteriorate further.

Coupled with the widespread knowledge that senior management had no appetite to tackle the ongoing issues, the Report discovered a “culture of fear„. Many responses to the Report spoke of fears ranging from being disbelieved, to being sacked and being prevented from finding future work. Indeed, the Report considered how some staff had felt unable to relive their experiences when Dame Cox was gathering evidence because of a fear that they would lose their job. This fear to raise concerns has, the Report found, now reached a breaking point in which “bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive..and have long been tolerated and concealed„.

It was acknowledged that although there were procedures within the House for raising concerns and grievances, they were not trusted and were described by the Report as “wholly ineffective„. Using this procedure often resulted in complaints being investigated by the line manager of an alleged perpetrator, someone not “likely to be impartial„.

Whilst it may be shocking for the public to hear of such concerning behaviour within Parliament and even more so that it is being covered up, some of the behaviours of both the perpetrators and those with responsibility for investigating complaints, are quite often present in every day office life.

As the Report shows only too well, bullying and harassment is a nasty business. Having policies and procedures in place and implementing them properly and fairly is a must. Staff have the right to have trust and confidence in their employer and it is generally accepted that an engaged and stable workforce is a productive one.

If you have been bullied at work, or have experienced harassment or sexual harassment, there are a number of options that you can consider taking. In the first instance, you should try and discuss matters informally with your line manager. If that is not appropriate or does not achieve a successful outcome, then it’s time to use your employer’s grievance procedure. Most employers will take grievances seriously and will want to resolve any dispute. Employers will want to ensure that policies are in place that encourage employees to speak out without fear and should make sure that complaints are investigated thoroughly, and independently.

If you have experienced instances described in this blog, and would like to discuss your options further, or need advice on dealing with grievances or complaints, then please contact our specialist team using the contact form on this page.

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Paul Chamberlain is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Employment department

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