Personally the most shocking revelation this year has been abuse in the workplace. I have several friends and acquaintances who have suffered badly. How can that be? We have anti-bullying and whistleblowing policies espoused by most employers. So what of those who have been intimidated and abused to the point of no longer being able to function? They’re on the verge of leaving or being pushed so far that they’ll be given the sack. Some have turned to their union. What happens? Their silence is bought; they are given a pay off and have to sign a document which means they can never divulge anything about their experience of problems with the organisation.

The latter comprise a huge range from charitable, educational, government bodies, NGOs, commercial ones and even the legal profession is not immune. The victims sign because they cannot afford not to. In one case the Union Rep proudly negotiated an excellent deal which the victim could not turn down. We can never hear the tale and the employer will continue to get away with abuse. One even went to a tribunal but no publicity was permitted. In another case, public intimidation in meetings is the bully’s penchant. He or she is in a position of power and a key decision-maker. Not one of the other managers dares to gainsay him or her lest they’re the next victims, even though sexist comments are rife. You can stand your ground only so far. All those I know have done so, but they need a reference for future work and money to live.

I had naively thought this sort of thing was ancient history. But I recall my own experiences. In my case colleagues were told not to discuss particular issues with me as I may have a good case for constructive dismissal. And there are even older memories. Someone I had to use as a referee wrote a total character assassination with extra pages appended. To this day I have no idea what I had done and both instances have left a deep scar. I still can’t reveal who the perpetrators were because in each case the whistleblowers who told me were not supposed to, so I must respect that and let the cycle of abuse continue. Yet our employment law says that ‘the duty of mutual trust and confidence’ is implied into every employment contract and means that employers and employees should not ‘without reasonable and proper cause, conduct themselves in a manner calculated or likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of trust and confidence between them’.

Ann Clark

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