Westminster Employees Make Harassment and Bullying Complaints Daily
A telephone helpline which was set up earlier this year has received an average of one call every day since its launch.
Commons Speaker John Bercow set up the helpline in May 2014 to help employees working at Westminster feel able to report acts of sexual harassment and bullying by MPs.
MPs employ staff directly both in Westminster and in their constituencies. As they employ and pay their own employees MPs are in essence operating their own small businesses.
As a result there are no proper grievance systems or complaints procedure in place to support those who have harassment and bullying complaints.
Previously the only option to those being subjected to such behaviour was to go back to the MP who employ them which may have well been the person who is harassing or bullying them in the first place.
In a statement made earlier this year John Bercow told the BBC:”MPs employ their staff directly. The House therefore is limited in its ability to intervene in cases in which allegations of bullying or harassment by MPs of their staff are concerned.”
The helpline has since received on average a call every single day.
The union officials however say the hotline is only ‘the tip of the iceberg’ and Lucille Harvey Secretary of the Parliamentary staff branch of the Unite union says she receives at least three complaints each month.
Lucille Harvey says: “There is no Human Resource department. The helpline can’t help you. It can offer advice but ultimately it will suggest you contact the MP directly so in that sense the hotline is about as useful as a phone call to your mum.”
Lucille Harvey also says: “sexual harassment is rife in Parliament” and “the drinking culture is vast. Young researchers are encouraged to drink more than they are used to and are not as clear headed as they should be which makes them less likely to complain.”
According to the Sunday Express one former researcher employed by a well-known MP told them: “Some MPs are well known among researchers for their predatory behaviour and we all used to swap stories so we knew which MPs to avoid.”
“Almost everyone who works in Parliament seems to have some kind of story about being groped by an MP. I had the very unwelcome experience of an MP sliding his hand into my back pocket. This particular MP was fairly high-profile and I felt that if I reported it to the police they were unlikely to believe me.”
In response to the rise in complaints about harassment and bullying at Westminster the Conservative Party recently announced it would put an updated code of conduct in place. The Labour Party has plans to introduce an independent complaints process. The Liberal Democrats meanwhile have introduced an independent pastoral care officer.
The helpline set up in May is run by a private employee assistance programme called Health Assured. A Parliament media spokesman advised that the service offers: “a confidential telephone helpline to allow staff to discuss personal and professional issues including health and well-being information financial issues including debt stress at home or work and relationship matters. Additionally face-to-face counselling sessions can be offered where appropriate; a range of online facilities is also available.”
“These ‘online facilities’ include online health assessments web-based presentations and coaching sessions. It will be available to”all staff who work for Members of Parliament including volunteers interns work-experience students and those who work for organisations who provide pooled research services within Parliament can use the service.”
The hotline which will run as a pilot scheme for a year clearly has good intentions but the question is exactly how will it help someone who reports a claim of harassment against an MP when all the hotline does it provide advice? The answer is not enough.
The only other option open to Westminster employees’ is to look to the law for help.
In the Employment Tribunal there is no liability for bullying and harassment save for where the harassment relates to a protected characteristic and therefore falls within the Equality Act 2010. Protected characteristics include sex gender and age.
In the County Courts an Employer has a duty to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace and should have comprehensive bullying and harassment policies which ought to be adhered to. Furthermore under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 an employer will also be vicariously liable for the acts of their employees in most circumstances.
Any civil claim would usually be pursued against an employer’s liability insurers but in the cases for the employees’ of the MPs enquiries would have to be made as to whether such insurance cover even exists leaving the Claimant in a position whereby they have to pursue the MP personally as they would don in the Employment Tribunal. Don’t worry though; we are sure that certain MP’s may simply claim this as an ‘expense’.
The legal position for those who have suffered with such behaviour is complex however Michael Lewin Solicitors are specialists in these types of claims and are able to advise and assist you.
If you believe that you would benefit from legal advice on this matter or believe you may have a claim against your employer please call us on 0844 499 9302 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .