The National Bullying Helpline's decision to disclose bullying allegations made by Downing Street staff drew further controversy last night when the founder refused to admit that she had breached caller confidentiality.
As four patrons of the anti-bullying charity quit, Christine Pratt insisted to Personnel Today she had done "nothing wrong" in disclosing that between three and four staff at Number 10 had contacted the helpline with claims of bullying at the prime minister's office.
Pratt disclosed the calls on Sunday in response to a statement by business secretary Peter Mandelson that categorically denied Gordon Brown was a bully. On Monday Pratt revealed another worker from the same office had e-mailed her with more allegations.
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Christine Pratt defends her actions
National Bullying Helpline founder Christine Pratt talks to Personnel Today about why she went public with the alleged calls made by Downing Street staff. The interview is edited into four separate questions covered by the magazine.
Listen to the full interview (02:19mins)
The Charity Commission has said it will investigate the matter. But workplace stress experts told Personnel Today that Pratt must apologise for the potential damage her decision to disclose the calls could inflict on the helpline sector.
Coreen Nugent, a freelance HR practitioner who acts as a workplace mediator, said: "An absolutely fundamental part of dealing with bullying in the workplace is confidentiality. It's the only way you can take a constructive approach and get a win-win for both sides."
She added: "If Pratt didn't have the permission of those individuals to come to the media then she should be apologising to them first and then publicly to reinforce the commitment to the importance of confidentiality to this matter."
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Listen to workplace stress specialist Coreen Nugent
Coreen says confidentiality is key if the anti-bullying sector is going to help individuals.
Listen to Coreen (0:37secs)
Ann McCracken, chair of the International Stress Management Association, was "shocked" that Pratt had broken confidentiality.
"I'm very concerned about the fact Pratt has gone public with this," she said, although she added that the issue would help to raise awareness of what constitutes acceptable behaviour in the workplace.
Charity Bullying UK's director Liz Carnell added: "This has been very bad for the anti-bullying sector and the helpline sector in general. Sometimes things go wrong in organisations, sometimes you have to put your hands up and say that."
The storm over Pratt's allegations deepened last night when four of the charity's patrons, including workplace stress tsar Cary Cooper and Conservative MP Ann Widecombe, resigned citing breaches of confidentiality.
But a defiant Pratt said she "would not act any differently" given a second chance. She said: "We haven't breached confidentiality here at all. We responded to Lord Mandelson's public statement of denial that bullying was occurring at Number 10.
"We would not expect an employer today to issue a public statement of denial with regard to an allegation of bullying without investigating it first."
Pratt added "there is no rule book", and stressed that she had not disclosed details of what the callers said or their names.
"I don't think I've done anything wrong. Do you think Gordon Brown or Lord Mandelson will apologise for having issued such a dismissive statement? That's where the apology should come from," she said.
"If anyone has got any concerns with what I've done or what any of our volunteers do or what anyone does here for that matter, they are very welcome to follow the complaints process on our website."
Pratt added that she was "surprised and disappointed" that Cooper had stepped down from the charity if his sole reason was because of her public commentary on Mandelson's statement.
She refused to accept she was becoming increasingly isolated in her views, insisting that she had received hundreds of calls and e-mails offering support.
Meanwhile, Nugent and McCracken urged employers to ensure staff that any workplace helplines set up were 100% confidential, referring colleagues to their organisation's policy.