Priti Patel and bullying: what is the law?

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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