Priti Patel and bullying: what is the law?

“Remedies
Since there is no statutory definition of workplace bullying (outside harassment and discrimination legislation) there is actually no direct legal remedy for it. As Acas says:

“Unless bullying amounts to conduct defined as harassment in the Equality Act 2010 it is not
possible to make a complaint to an Employment Tribunal about it.”

Basically all one can do is what the Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam did in the Patel case: resign and claim constructive dismissal at a tribunal. This means that you are claiming the behaviour constituted a repudiatory breach of contract on the part of the employer amounting to a breach in the implied term of trust and confidence between employer and employee:

“Constructive dismissal is when you’re forced to leave your job against your will because of your employer’s conduct. The reasons you leave your job must be serious, for example, [the employer] … let other employees harass or bully you.” (Government website)”

Thinking legally

Can a person whose behaviour constitutes bullying really be exonerated if there was “no intention” to bully, as the case of Priti Patel, UK Home Secrtary, suggests? The answer is fundamentally no – but overwhelmingly, yes, since workplace bullies throughout the country claim this defence in disciplinary proceedings – and usually successfully when their management is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Can the bully be exonerated because she is working in a “challenging” job with people resistent to change, as Patel claimed? Again the answer is no. If you resort to bullying in these circumstances that would be bullying as a technique of management – and hence intentional; or you’ve simply lost it and should be moved from your post or at the very least get some retraining. But again the answer is “yes” since blaming the victims is always a good ploy for a manager…

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