HM Revenue and Customs is conducting a full review of its workplace policies and standards after a report found that staff in the department face both abusive and abrasive behaviour but do not have confidence in measures to improve conditions.
In a letter to the Public Accounts Committee, HMRC chief executive Jon Thompson announced “a full review of relevant policies, processes and standards to ensure we provide our employees with a working environment they deserve, and a culture that meets our values”.
The department accepted in full the findings of an independent report into respect at work led by Laura Whyte, a former HR director at John Lewis Partnership, uncovered “a significant amount of so-called low level poor behaviour” that would not be acceptable in other environments, Thompson said.
Whyte’s review highlighted a number of commons concerns about working in HMRC. These included bullying and disrespect in all directions, a lack of common courtesy, treatment of staff as cogs in a machine rather than people, and a failure to remove barriers for disabled staff.
“Swearing, breaching confidentiality, mocking colleagues, seemed to be unremarkable,” according to Whyte. “This creates a snowball effect where the environment may not feel a safe space for some colleagues, and more serious or extreme behaviours may emerge.”
Her recommendations included tackling the ‘low level’ unacceptable behaviour though clear standards that apply from staff induction, as well as improved training and policies. Policy and processes for dealing with abusive behaviour should also be improved ang while mediation used more extensively, she said. The department should also help disabled staff through an improved reasonable adjustments policy and raising awareness of mental health conditions, and improve its people data management.
Thompson told PAC: “We are committed to addressing these issues and is building a comprehensive action plan to support this work.”
He added: “The report found that most people in HMRC have dedication, pride and commitment in the work they do and come to work every day to do a good job, serve customers and support their colleagues. And they expect and deserve to work in a safe, tolerant and supportive environment.”
Thompson also addressed the allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment by staff in HMRC that had been reported at the same time as the Whyte review.
According to the Guardian, Mark Nellthorp, a deputy director at HMRC, was sacked after sexual misconduct claims by female employees were upheld. He is understood to be appealing against his dismissal and did not respond to requests for comment at the time.
Thompson said: “We take any accusations of misconduct by our people extremely seriously and thoroughly investigate all allegations, involving the police where necessary. The conduct of HMRC officers is subject to oversight and investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct. HMRC will refer any misconduct by our officers to the IOPC which meets the reporting requirements as laid down by their regulations.
“As you will appreciate, we are unable to provide specific details on individual cases. The safety and wellbeing of our people is our top priority and we work hard to ensure everyone works in a safe, positive and inclusive environment. If you [committee chair Meg Hillier], or your committee, would like any further information I will happily provide.”