May 28, 2007

A cult figure...

According to ‘’ – the online magazine for business and HR personnel: An employment lawyer has gained a cult business after suggesting on his blog that the unfair dismissal law should be scrapped. Mark Ellis, a solicitor at business consultancy Ellis Whittam (who provide corporate support), said the law benefited lawyers and staff at the expense of the UK economy.

"Are the feelings and the personal hardship suffered by an individual employee more important than the success and happiness of UK plc?" he posted earlier this month. There were 41,832 unfair dismissal claims in 2005-06, according to the Employment Tribunal Service. But Ellis told Personnel Today that if organisations were able to sack people they didn't like, productivity would soar, and there would be more work and money for everyone.

"If an employer doesn't like someone - as long as it is not a case of discrimination - then why should they have to go through a six-month procedure to tick the right boxes?" he said. An increasing number of "litigious employees" and no-win, no-fee lawyers were taking advantage of employment laws, he added.

Employers leapt to agree, and there was even a comment - albeit non-committal - from Conservative Leader David Cameron's office. And Peter Schofield, director of legal and employment affairs at manufacturers' body the EEF, told Personnel Today: "There is a legal regulation for almost every detail of the employment relationship."

We suspect that Mr Ellis’s ‘cult’ status does not come from the thousands (?) of victims/targets of workplace bullying who ‘experienced’ what a recent ACAS study highlighted: ‘… how claimants dismissed as “futile” internal grievance procedures aimed at resolving disputes within organisations. Complaints were made about how the submission of a grievance by an employee was often triggered by disciplinary action by employers and how they could work against achieving a satisfactory resolution; it was also thought to be difficult to find colleagues to represent them, that there were often unnecessary delays and the involvement of unsuitable managers who, in a number of cases, were felt to have been complicit or active in the original discrimination experience.’

No, his ‘cult’ status comes from the magazine ‘’ which represents the interests of HR, and employers. The role of HR is well documented – in the vast majority of cases, human resources do not rock the boat and rubber-stamp the unfair application of internal procedures - they often collude with the employer and participate in such procedures. In any case, their job is on the line. And of course, the ‘cult’ status is supported by employers who in effect are judge and jury when it comes down to ACAS guidelines in dealing with internal disciplinary procedures.

The CIPD (Charted Institute of Personnel Development) - the professional body for those involved in the management and development of people – have guidelines for their staff on how to do the right things when dealing with internal procedures, but have never held accountable any of their members for not doing so…

These points are of no interest to Mr Ellis. His emphasis is not on making sure that ACAS guidelines are followed properly, but rather how some cases that end up in Employment Tribunals are often trivial, and as such are slowing down UK businesses. Nor does Mr Ellis deal with the effects of unfair dismissals on victims of workplace bullying. It is like if PTSD does not exist. In many ways, Mr Ellis represents the interests of business – his clients. We also suspect that Mr Ellis has not been in touch with the Andrea Adams Trust to get the picture from a different perspective.

Mr Ellis tries to be ‘pioneering’ in his blog by suggesting that the recent review comissioned by the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) was his idea; Michael Gibbons – the person comissioned to write the report on the efficacy of the 2004 Regulations – was informed by Mr Ellis’s blog. No need to comment on such claims to fame, but worthwhile quoting what the DTI states:

‘…This consultation sets out a package of measures for taking forward the recommendations of the Gibbons review of employment dispute resolution in Great Britain. The review was set up to look at the options for simplifying and improving all aspects of employment dispute resolution, to make the system work better for employers and employees. It looked at all aspects of the system, including the existing legal requirements, how employment tribunals work, and the scope for new initiatives to help resolve disputes at an earlier stage.

The consultation is seeking views on a package of measures to help solve employment disputes successfully in the workplace so that:

• Productivity is raised through improved workplace relations.
• Access to justice is ensured for employees and employers.
• The cost of resolving disputes is reduced for all parties.
• Disputes are resolved swiftly before they escalate.

The specific measures being consulted on include repealing the current statutory dispute resolution procedures; providing better help and guidance to resolve disputes at an earlier stage; and improving how employment tribunals work.’

We suspect that in principal no victim of workplace bullying has any problems with the application of fair and impartial internal moderation to resolve issues before escalation. One of the failings of the current system is indeed the fact that the vast majority of employers refuse to engage in the services of external independent consultans – there is no obligaiton on them to do so, a point missed completely by Mr Ellis, who somehow assumes that the major failing of the current system is an increasing number of "litigious employees" and no-win, no-fee lawyers taking advantage of employment laws. Why would Mr Ellis bite the hand that feeds him and critique employers for not following properly ACAS guidelines and not exercising leadership qualities in brining in independent consultants to weed out management bullying?

The DTI is calling for interested parties to respond to the review by 20 June 2007. A response can be submitted by letter, fax or email to:

Dispute Resolution Review Team
Department of Trade and Industry
1 Victoria Street
London SW1H 0ET
Tel: 020 7215 5000
Fax: 020 7215 0168

Regarding Mr Ellis’s ‘cult’ status, we are confident that victims of workplace bullying have a different opinion. In his world the victims of workplace bullying are dealt with as if they have no emotions, as if unfair dismissals have no health effects - only the interests of his corporate clients exist. A real cult figure...


Anonymous said...

Dear mark ellis,

if you would like to see city workers riots,smashed windows, burnt cars, city barricades like in the 70s, that's the way to go.

Abolish the unfair dismissal and you will see millions of people ready to riot on the roads of UK.

Go for it.

Anonymous said...

HE Human Resources:

Tales of mis-management

I have recently had sight of correspondence between a Personnel Services Manager and an Occupational Health Advisor at an increasingly infamous University in the West Midlands of the UK (you know which one).

It amply suggests the real role of at least some HR departments: How they pressurise employees within the organisation; how their professed goal of providing advice and support to employees is an illusion when in reality they only serve the needs of the senior management; how they are able to create the conditions for a dismissal to take place and work to suppress the truth and cover up executive and management misconduct.

The correspondence shows how the priority of the (mis-)manager is to sieze the opportunity of an employee being off work with "stress related absence" to get OH to help Personnel "progress" the disciplinary process the employee was then involved in "quickly", implying the most 'suitable' course of action and pressuring towards a certain judgment. No prizes for guessing what the OHA did. She obediently proclaimed the employee well enough to participate. Strange that I had eye-witnessed this same OHA myself just days before reassuring the employee that he would not be forced back to work without being well enough and that the bullying that had made him ill would be addressed.

However this also must have slipped her mind because bullying disappeared as the cause of the employee's stress from her report, mysteriously replaced by a reason NEVER cited by the employee.

Anyway, no matter because the Personnel mis-manager couldn't have cared less for how the employee might be made able and well to return to work. He would not, after all, be returning, we now know.

And besides, the OHA later withdrew her self proclaimed "medical" opinion when an actual qualified medical professional apparently disagreed with her.

Everyday tales of misanagement in UK Higher Education PLC.

Melody Boyce

Anonymous said...

The power of this blog is that it provides a knowledge base from which to address issues of work place bullying.

However I will not be joining the riots on the streets... though I understand the frustration of those who want to take such actions.

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

It is helpful to continue to deconstruct the role of HR and UCU in cases of workplace bullying.

Those of us who approached HR and UCU when we felt we were being bullied thought we were going mad when they failed to support us...while appearing to be sympathetic. Such hypocrisy is indefensible.

It is important to continue to challenge the role of UCU and HR. Their role is to support employees NOT to collude with workplace bullying.

Questions such as these can be raised at UCU's conference - I believe this week.....

Aphra Behn