Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has resigned after a report investigating bullying allegations against him was published.
The report found that on a number of occasions when meeting with policy officials, Mr Raab “acted in a manner which was intimidating, in the sense of going further than was necessary or appropriate in delivering critical feedback, and also insulting, in the sense of making unconstructive critical comments about the quality of work done.”
In his resignation letter, Mr Raab said he believed the report had ‘flawed’ findings and had set the threshold for bullying too low.
What constitutes workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying refers to repeated, unreasonable and negative behaviour directed towards an individual or group of individuals in the workplace. It can take various forms, including verbal abuse, intimidation, exclusion, and humiliation, among others. Workplace bullying can affect the mental and physical health of employees, resulting in absenteeism, job dissatisfaction, and low morale. It can also have detrimental effects on the productivity and performance of an organization.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), approximately 19 percent of the workforce has experienced workplace bullying in the United States. Furthermore, a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that 18 percent of HR professionals had dealt with workplace bullying in their organisations in 2020.
The Australian government defines workplace bullying as repeated and unreasonable behaviour that creates a risk to health and safety. This definition includes physical violence, psychological abuse, and harassment. The Australian Human Rights Commission states that workplace bullying can manifest in various ways, including verbal abuse, spreading rumours, making unreasonable demands, or assigning meaningless tasks.
Research has shown that workplace bullying can have a range of negative outcomes for employees, including depression, anxiety, stress, and decreased job satisfaction. A study by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work found that workplace bullying can also lead to increased absenteeism, lower productivity, and higher staff turnover rates.
It is important to note that workplace bullying is not the same as harassment, although the two can overlap. Harassment refers to behaviour that is discriminatory in nature, such as that based on gender, race, or religion. Workplace bullying, on the other hand, can affect anyone, regardless of their background.
Commenting on the report and the lessons for HR Directors, Daniel Stander, from international law firm, Vedder Price, says:
“The Prime Minister appointed an eminent employment barrister as the author of the report who has the specialist knowledge and experience to be able to distil disputed and voluminous evidence against often complex legal principles into plain language. This has resulted in a report that carried sufficient weight for the Deputy Prime Minister to resign in the wake of the report’s findings – thus achieving a main objective at the outset of being able to avoid the most vociferous claims of a whitewash having occurred.
“The report has also been made public, and so this further underlines how the credibility
of the investigator needs to be beyond reproach to maintain the integrity of the process. As a nod to the media scrutiny in this case, the report presents the author’s summary conclusions in an easy-to-digest way, and so this is a good reminder for workplace investigators to proceed with an eye to the report’s audience at large, as well as its more limited initial audience being 10 Downing Street itself.
“No workplace investigation should be undertaken lightly unless there is real buy-in from those instructing. Organisations need to be prepared to take action depending on the findings which are made, however difficult these may appear. In today’s business environment, it is not really an option to “bury the report” given the expectations of accountability and transparency investors, employees and other stakeholders hold.”
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, says:
“Today’s events raise interesting questions about what is appropriate behaviour in the workplace. There is no clear definition of bullying in UK employment law, so it can be very subjective. What one person finds intimidating or offensive, another may not.
“Bullying behaviour is typically seen as actions or words that are malicious or insulting, or an abuse of power that humiliates, undermines, or causes harm (either physical or emotional) to someone.
“Employers do need to be able to give direct feedback to employees, but it’s important to consider the way that feedback is delivered. Everyone responds in different ways, so when giving feedback it’s often better to take a personal rather than a blanket approach. Consider your delivery, use appropriate language, and consider the person you are speaking to. A good rule of thumb is never to do or say anything that you would not be happy to have done or said to you.”
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.