Harassment in the workplace continues to be a very newsworthy topic. In addition to continued reporting in connection with the CBI, the former Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, has quit after a report found misogyny, harassment and bullying in the political party. 

Price was leader of Plaid Cymru for five years. A former MP, he remained in post until his resignation on 10 May 2023 following publication of a report which concluded that the political party had tolerated “too many instances of bad behaviour”. While there have been no reports of direct complaints about Mr Price, given his position as leader of an organisation which had a “culture which had allowed behaviour to go unchallenged when it should have been”, he ultimately appears to have had no choice but to resign.

The director general of an organisation such as Tony Danker, former director general of the CBI (discussed in our recent blog) or the leader of a political party is expected to demonstrate the highest possible standards of behaviour and professional conduct. But their position can make it difficult to ensure proper scrutiny of their own conduct. Those holding senior positions must not only demonstrate high standards of personal behaviour; they must also call into account others who do not do the same and ensure that organisations have in place a culture, supported by appropriate policies, procedures and training which safeguards all employees.

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has also released a new poll suggesting a third of managers have seen harassment or inappropriate behaviour at parties. The CMI, a professional body focusing on management and leadership, surveyed more than 1,000 managers at the end of April. Overall, two in five (42%) said work parties should be organised around activities that don’t involve alcohol. Younger people, aged between 16 and 34, were most likely to say this.

The chief executive of the CMI, Ann Francke, told the BBC that socialising with colleagues is "a great team building opportunity" that many people enjoy. But she added that managers have a responsibility to keep inappropriate behaviour in check, and to ensure there are safeguards in place. 

She added, "That might mean adding additional activities alongside alcohol, limiting the amount of drinks available per person or ensuring that people who are drinking too much are prevented from acting inappropriately towards others". 

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI between 2015 and 2020 has this week announced that she banned alcohol-only staff events when she was informed there was poor behaviour and that employees drank too much at a summer party where there was no sit down meal. However, she was not told of sexual assault at the event. 

The CMI’s recommendations follow a raft of news articles about harassment at work in the context of work parties, perhaps most significantly dealt with in Sue Gray’s report into ‘Partygate’ at 10 Downing Street in which she concluded, “The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time”.

As noted in our earlier blog, Sarah Woolley General Secretary of the BFAWU said, “sexual harassment is caused by the very structures within McDonald’s. This is not a few bad apples: this is caused by a system...”.

With so much focus on this subject in the press and with the imminent Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill one hopes that we are seeing a cultural shift in which the structures of employment organisations are transformed by law and by people management to bring long lasting systemic change.