Christine Pratt should face CIPD investigation, say HR professionals

Pressure is growing on the CIPD to investigate charity boss Christine Pratt after her decision to go public about alleged bullying accusations made by Number 10 staff.

Numerous HR professionals contacted by Personnel Today have protested at Pratt’s apparent breach of confidentiality, claiming that she should have her Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) fellow status and membership revoked if she is found guilty of contravening the institute’s code of conduct.

The code specifies that members should demonstrate appropriate behaviour in business and personal activities, and “must respect legitimate needs and requirements for confidentiality”.

But last week, the head of the National Bullying Helpline (pictured left) claimed that “three or four” Downing Street staff had contacted her charity with allegations of bullying at the prime minister’s office.

A spokesman for the CIPD said the body took code of conduct matters “very seriously”, but refused to comment further as any investigative process would remain confidential.

Wendy Allardes, HR director at Cumbria Newspapers Group, told Personnel Today: “Confidentiality is one of the cornerstones of our profession, and what appears to be a deliberate breach of this should be followed up. Like the General Medical Council, the CIPD should investigate this and ‘strike [Pratt] off’ if she is found to be guilty.”

Eric Sandison, head of HR at construction firm Chap Group, agreed: “I would certainly advocate, not only her fellow status, but her CIPD membership being removed.” He added: “We have a difficult enough task portraying our profession without allowing imposters like this to carry on with impunity.”

Chartered fellow members also raised alarms that should the CIPD fail to act, it would damage the profession’s reputation.

Keith Luxon, a CIPD fellow and HR director at water management firm Veolia Water, said: “If professional chartered status is to mean anything, then there needs to be some sanction against members who breach the CIPD’s professional code.”

But he added: “Unfortunately, I expect the CIPD to do little about this. They will issue a holding statement and ‘monitor’ progress, but I fear they do not see their role as that of upholding professional standards.”

Last week, the Charity Commission said it would probe the National Bullying Helpline after it received 160 complaints about Pratt’s conduct. Four of the charity’s patrons, including workplace stress expert Cary Cooper, quit in protest at what they saw as Pratt’s breach of confidentiality towards callers.

A CIPD spokesman said: “We cannot comment on whether we will investigate this case. We do have a code of conduct and we take it very seriously. If people wish to complain, they are welcome to do so.”

Pratt insisted to Personnel Today that she did not breach confidentiality because she did not identify callers’ names or details of what they said.

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