The final Friday of the month is upon us which means it’s time for a roundup of everything employment law. Last month’s update had features on the Church of England employment status scandal, mental health first aid and another supermarket equal pay claim. Meanwhile, last week’s case law update concerned vicarious liability and Christmas Party fights. This month also saw us cover the Gay Cake case.
After examining the Church of England in last month’s update, our latest instalment about current affairs shines the spotlight back on Westminster. This month two news issues have highlighted bullying and harassment issues in Parliament and Government; the publication of the Cox Report and the treatment of Theresa May by Conservative MPs.
The poor treatment of House of Commons staff has been something of an open secret for many years. However, the Cox Report shows the issue is more than rumour and there are frequent incidents of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.
Over 200 current and former House of Commons staff were interviewed for the report, 70% of which were women. Common and shocking incidents of bullying and harassment in the report include:
- Staff repeatedly being told they were “fucking useless”
- Staff being humiliated in front of colleagues by MPs or superiors
- Staff being grabbed violently by MPs or superiors
- Staff being subject to offensive comments about their appearance
- Female employees being treated as servants
- Female employees being threatened with dismissal if they failed to comply with orders
- Female employees being surrounded by male MPs and inappropriately touched
- Female MPs being surrounded by male MPs and asked inappropriate questions about their sex lives
- Staff from ethnic minority backgrounds being challenged about their right to be in parts of the House
- Staff being made to attend last minute unscheduled meetings that clashed with childcare commitments
The report stems from allegations made against speaker John Bercow, who is now under pressure to resign. One frequent issue cited by victims is that when the issue was reported it was often swept aside for political reasons. The so called “greater good” prevailed over HR procedure.
The report also coincides at time when numerous conservative MPs have made both public and private threats about Prime Minister, Theresa May. Comments have been made referencing knives, hanging and killing in an attempt to challenge May’s leadership. Unlike the aforementioned incidents of bullying, these threats are made for political reasons; to ensure the Government is headed by someone with the right vision of Brexit (whatever that is).
The report suggests that there needs to be a massive shift in the way bullying and harassment grievances are dealt with at the House of Commons, with an acceptance that there is a bullying issue needing to be the first step to change.
Whilst the recent cultural shift in the reporting of sexual harassment issues has revealed how rife it is behind closed office doors, bullying tends to be far more visible but equally rife. Indeed, the purpose of bullying is often for a (incapable/weak) senior member of staff to establish authority and instil fear amongst subordinates.
The report rightly points out that not only does bullying undermine the Commons’ reputation, it also means talented staff are lost to the private sector. These two issues are common for any business that doesn’t tackle bullying and harassment seriously; it gets a reputation as a bad employer and subsequently struggles to retain and attract staff.