The Prime Minister’s decision to stand by Priti Patel and judge that she did not breach the ministerial code over bullying and harassment, has been heavily criticised by specialist employment lawyers at Constantine Law.
Yesterday Sir Alex Allan, the prime minister’s adviser on ministerial standards resigned following Boris Johnson’s refusal to sack Priti Patel despite the findings of a Cabinet Office inquiry into allegations of bullying and harassment by the home secretary. The inquiry examined Ms Patel’s behaviour at three different government departments – the Home Office, Work and Pensions and International Development.
Sir Alex Allan’s report found that Patel had broken the ministerial code and stated that she had not consistently met “the high standards required by the ministerial code of treating her civil servants with consideration and respect”. It added that her approach on occasions had amounted to behaviour “that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals”.
This was the second resignation on principle over this affair. Sir Phillip Rutnam, a top civil servant at the Home Office resigned in March and alleged staff felt Ms Patel had “created fear”. Sir Philip is suing the government for constructive dismissal.
John Hayes, Managing Partner at Constantine Law said, “No matter how powerful the organisation workplace bullying cannot be tolerated. Bullying, fundamentally, is about the abuse of power. It is not a male or female issue (although it can often be seen like that) it’s the abuse of power that counts. “
“Organisations that tolerate bullying have a culture of fear which militates against self-expression and, as a result, good performance. Everyone just keeps their heads down. No one says anything. No one comes up with any good new ideas, for fear of being bullied”
“It can be a big employment issue. Organisations which tolerate bullying tend to have high levels of attrition which militates against good performance and outputs because there is no continuity.
“It is a particular problem with Government because no one can hold the Government to account until the next election- in this case four years. This creates a worst problem for government than for other organisations as the bigger and more top-down the organisation, the less accountable they can be and the worse the bullying.”
Sarah Evans, Employment Partner at Constantine Law added, “This case also highlights the inadequate state of the law on dealing with bullying. The remedy for bullying is to raise a grievance which will rarely be upheld, quit your employment, cut off your salary immediately, and issue a constructive dismissal case, if you have 2 years’ service. Very few people can afford to do that, and the state of the Employment tribunals mean that redress is a very long time coming.”
Ms Patel has released a statement saying she was sorry “that my behaviour in the past has upset people.” Evans continues “The other issue with establishing protocols on bullying is that one person’s management is another’s bullying. And of course whether women in power or senior position are judged harsher – as aggressive – rather than assertive. What bullying actually is can be difficult to describe- but employers are at least seem to be getting better at recognising it.”
Image credit: Richard Townshend, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons