Dominic Raab would have likely faced disciplinary action if he was working for a private company, an employment lawyer has said.
Caroline Baker, a solicitor at law firm GQ Littler, said the findings that Mr Raab “intimidated” and “humiliated” civil servants would have seen the former deputy prime minister facing at least a final written warning if he had been a regular employee rather than a minister.
She said: “I think he would certainly be subject to disciplinary action for this.
“Whether he was terminated or given a final written warning would depend on the employer, but let’s say it’s your CEO and they are humiliating your employees, I think they would be gone, so I think it’s untenable.”
Mr Raab has always insisted he did not bully staff, and while he accepted the conclusions of Adam Tolley’s investigation into his conduct, he said the inquiry was “flawed” and set a “low” threshold for bullying.
Ms Baker said she thought Mr Raab had been “held to a higher standard” by the requirements of the Ministerial Code, but would be in a similar position if he were a senior executive at a private firm.
She said: “This report talks about constructive criticism and, at some points, unconstructive criticism.
“If you are genuinely giving feedback in a constructive manner, that’s completely valid. Where it crosses a line, there was talk of people feeling humiliated and intimidated.
“I guess that can be a fine line. I think there is a certain awareness that you need to have about how you make people feel.”
Other lawyers said they hoped Mr Tolley’s report would act as a catalyst for change in the UK, which currently has no formal definition of workplace bullying.
Richard Fox, senior consultant in employment law at Kingsley Napley, said: “For me, it’s an inflection point in the way that Me Too was an inflection point for sexual harassment. We may look back on it as a seminal moment.”
Mr Fox said Mr Tolley, a leading employment silk, had focused on what constitutes bullying and had provided employers with “good guidance” as a result.
He added: “I know (Mr Raab) has been saying things like it set a low bar, but I question whether that’s accurate.
“I think what it does is set a bar. Some people might say it’s low, some people might say it’s high, but it sets a bar and now when employers are saying ‘I don’t understand what is bullying and therefore behaviour I shouldn’t be doing’, they now have some guidance.”
Another solicitor, David Miers of law firm Setfords, said the case showed the “chasm” in support for victims of bullying, who often have no clear avenue for redress.
He said: “What many people don’t realise is there is no tortious offence of bullying. Victims of bullying often find the process of raising a grievance very frustrating because it’s so muddied and there’s no standard definition of bullying.”
He added that he hoped the affair would encourage the Government to legislate and provide a clearer definition of bullying in order to protect people in the workplace.
David Greenhalgh, partner and specialist employment solicitor at Excello Law, said the report was “a great victory for government employees, who have stood up for each other and have spoken out where they have not felt safe in the workplace”.
He added: “The key now is building on the outcome of the report and trying to get employees to voice and report their concerns earlier. In this case it seems that many took issue with Mr Raab’s behaviour but presumably felt unable to raise those concerns until they knew they were doing so in numbers.”