Public bodies need to set an example and foster a culture of zero tolerance for bullying, lawyers say.

An FOI request into bullying at the Home Office shows 233 complaints of bullying raised for managers to investigate in the last two years.

Only 34 of these resulted in a member of staff being disciplined. The news comes just as Anti-bullying week comes to a close today.


Home Office long-term bullying accusations

The statistics cover the same period as the settlement with former civil servant Sir Philip Rutnam over his claim of unfair dismissal. 

The former Home Office boss left after claiming Home Secretary Priti Patel had been a bully and creating an ‘atmosphere of fear’, which she denies. 

It was claimed that Sir Philip received over £300,000 in damages. 

Shah Qureshi, partner and Head of the Employment and Professional Discipline team at Irwin Mitchell said:

 “At a time when the number of bullying complaints has reduced due to people working from home the large number of bullying complaints at the Home Office appears disproportionate…The government’s failure to release the investigation report into the bullying allegations against Priti Patel suggests a lack of accountability from the top down.” 


Could bullying still happen during remote working?

In a 2019 Home Office survey, after the Putnam row, around 3,000 employees said they had been bullied or harassed.  

Shah added: “These figures are a stark reminder that despite organisations having large proportions of their staff working from home, many employees can still feel intimidated by colleagues and can have strong cases for bullying. 

 “We dealt with fewer cases of bullying during the lockdown, but it isn’t the case that it doesn’t go on, just because people are not working face-to face.”


How able are British workers to report bullying or harassment?

In a separate study this year, only 50 percent of British workers said their workplace takes bullying, discrimination or harassment complaints seriously.

However, lawfirm Bolt Burdon Kemp found most  British people know what to do if they were involved in workplace discrimination, sexual harassment and abuse, or issues with the police.  

However, more than half said they would not access legal support as it either had too many barriers or it was too expensive. 


The gender, age and economic divide

The survey also once again highlighted the empowerment imbalance between men and women. 

56 percent of men said they would know where to go to make a sexual harassment complaint, but only 52 percent of women were comfortable with this. 

The survey also showed that younger people aged 16-24  were unprepared to report traumatic issues; only 34 percent said they would go to the police for help. 

Meanwhile, fifteen percent of young people also said they wouldn’t report sexual abuse, in case it negatively affected their relationships or career. 

Similarly, it also found people on lower incomes did not feel empowered to get help after a traumatic situation. 


Bolt Burdon Kemp has released the following guidelines for people who have suffered any unfair treatment, harassment, discrimination or abuse, or are medically misdiagnosed: 

  • In the case of medical misdiagnosis, you can make a formal complaint if you’d like to see the healthcare professional go through disciplinary procedures. The NHS complaints procedure can be used for NHS-specific services, or you can complain directly to the private hospital. Another option is to use the Independent Sector Complaints Adjudication Service (ISCAS). 
  • Approach organisations who can provide advice about abuse, such as the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, Survivors UK, Victim Support, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), and law firms that deal with cases of abuse
  • You could also bring a medical negligence claim or independent experts to determine what went wrong in your care and who was to blame, or an accident claim to determine how and by whom your accident or injury was caused, before securing compensation. 
  • If your employer is responsible for sexual harassment, bullying or discrimination, you could contact your workplace union, or organisations such as the National Bullying Helpline or the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
  • If you’re faced with a traumatic event or you suffer something unjust, you can usually contact a lawyer for initial help without being charged for their time. Organisations such as Citizens Advice can also help provide free legal advice. 






Feyaza Khan has been a journalist for more than 20 years in print and broadcast. Her special interests include neurodiversity in the workplace, tech, diversity, trauma and wellbeing.