Bullying should never be tolerated in the workplace. While there is no legal definition, bullying is generally understood as a pattern of intimidating or offensive behaviour that undermines or denigrates the person experiencing it. It can have pernicious impacts on their physical health and mental wellbeing, and undermines performance at work. So it is absolutely right that the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, resigned from the cabinet after an independent investigation found he had bullied civil servants in the Foreign Office and Ministry of Justice. But the manner of Raab’s resignation, and the way it was accepted by the prime minister, raises serious questions about the government’s commitment to improving the workplace culture across Whitehall.
The investigation was carried out by Adam Tolley KC after formal complaints were made by civil servants about Raab’s conduct while foreign and justice secretary. Because Tolley undertook to protect the anonymity of the civil servants who made the complaints, his report contains limited details of his investigation. But Tolley found that Raab acted in a way that was intimidating by way of “unreasonably and persistently aggressive conduct”, and that he introduced “an unwarranted punitive element”. His conduct was inevitably experienced as undermining or humiliating by the official in question. He referred to the civil service code in a meeting in a way that could be understood as suggesting that those in the meeting had breached their employment contracts, conveying “a sense of unspecified disciplinary action”. He also acted in an intimidating manner through providing unconstructive critical feedback. Tolley also found that the civil servants who came forward to complain were acting in good faith and were “sincere and committed, with no ulterior agenda”. He said several had suffered stress and anxiety that they believed was related to Raab’s conduct, and he praised junior civil servants for their courage in coming forward.
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