£1 million fine | Firm SLAMMED over staff parties rife with initiation games, bullying & sexism

Firm SLAMMED over staff parties rife with initiation games, bullying & sexism

An insurance firm has been fined a record £1million after an investigation found some of its male managers led a culture of heavy drinking, initiation games and sexual remarks about female staff, according to the BBC.

Atrium Underwriters has admitted charges relating to bullying and misconduct during annual 'boys' nights out'. Some of the behaviour was led, participated in and condoned by two senior leaders, according to the report conducted by Lloyd’s of London.

Atrium has accepted the ruling and issued an apology, also vowing to ensure these incidents recurring.

The national broadcaster also reported that the fine of £1,050,000 is the largest ever imposed by Lloyd's independent disciplinary committee, and its first for non-financial misconduct.

According to the investigation, Atrium had allowed an ‘annual boys' night’ out over a number of years.

Incidents on these nights out would involve male members of staff, two of which were reportedly senior executives, including two senior executives, taking part in unprofessional and inappropriate conduct, Lloyds found.

These incidents reportedly included initiation games, heavy drinking and making inappropriate and sexualised comments about female colleagues.

These comments were found to be discriminatory and harassing to female members of staff.

Behaviour by one male staff member - called Employee A in the document - "included a systematic campaign of bullying against a junior employee over a number of years", Lloyd's found.

Once Atrium became aware of the bullying, it failed to investigate, take disciplinary action or adequately protect the junior employee, it said.

Instead, Atrium negotiated a settlement package with the culprit and allowed him to resign rather than face disciplinary sanction, reported Lloyd’s.

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The document noted that Atrium had a previously good disciplinary record and has since updated its policies and procedures relating to disciplinary issues, whistleblowing and diversity and inclusion.

Lloyd's chief executive, John Neal, said to the BBC: "We are deeply disappointed by the behaviour highlighted by this case, and I want to be clear that discrimination, harassment and bullying have no place at Lloyd's."

Christopher Stooke, independent non-executive chairman at Atrium, said: "The behaviour outlined in the notice of censure has no place in our business or our industry, and we recognise that we must go further to ensure that this situation is never allowed to happen again."

Staff concerned about bullying claims

While it’s clear that the claims of bullying at Atrium have been treated with the utmost care, only 50% of Brits say their workplace takes bullying, discrimination, or harassment complaints seriously, new data has suggested.

Specialist lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp asked the British public how empowered they feel when it comes to seeking justice.

In a survey of 2,000 British adults carried out by the firm, it found that most people know what to do if something traumatic at work happened to them.

They were asked about situations involving medical negligence, workplace discrimination, sexual harassment and abuse, and issues with the police.

And just 50% said their workplace takes bullying, discrimination, or harassment complaints seriously.

Meanwhile, 59% said it’s too expensive to access legal support, while 52% said there are too many barriers to getting legal support, and just 41% said if they needed help, support or to make a complaint, they’d be comfortable approaching a law firm.

How HR can combat bullying

In light of this data, it shines a light on bullying in the workplace and separate data has pointed towards its unfortunate prevalence.

For example, research compiled by TUC in 2015, claimed that a third of the UK workforce has experienced bullying.

More recently, 2020 data conducted by Key Law – and reported on by THIIS – found that over a third of employees in the UK revealed that they have experienced or witnessed bullying at work over the past three years.

As such, it is important for employers and HR to think about how they can combat bullying in the workplace.

Mark Allan, Commercial Director at Bupa UK Insurance previously explained that companies, amid the ongoing disruption, must keep aware of the complex employee landscape and be aware of how miscommunication, misinterpretation and isolation can hit employees.

He previously explained: “There is no place for bullying or discrimination in any organisation, whether that’s hiding behind a screen or face-to-face.

“Employers have the same duty of care for their workers whether they’re in the office or at home. Therefore, creating a culture where employees feel able to speak up if they experience any problems, is absolutely key."

“We strongly believe that allowing employees to be themselves without fear of bullying or discrimination is crucial in enabling people to thrive at work,” Allan added.

Sexual harassment at work

Data collated in August 2021 found that the majority of companies are failing to instil sexual harassment training among their workforce.

The TalentLMS and Purple Campaign report polled over 1,200 employees and found that 92% of women surveyed said that unwanted physical contact counts as sexual harassment, compared to 78% of men surveyed.

Suggestive remarks were considered harassment by 88% of women and just 69% of men; likewise, sexual jokes were frowned upon by 86% of women and 69% of men.

Additionally, 73% of women surveyed said comments regarding someone's gender identity and expression were sexual harassment, compared to 47% of men.

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“There is still a long way to go in educating employers and employees,” said Christina Gialleli, Director of People Ops at TalentLMS, said in the research.

“With over 75% of women and 85% of men reporting they feel safer at work after having received training, it’s clear that sexual harassment training needs to be a part of every company’s yearly curriculum.”

However, the data also highlight just how effective revised sexual harassment training can be in sparking positive change. Up to 90% of respondents reported that, after receiving training, they were more aware of how to report an incident of sexual harassment.

70% noted that training made them more likely to stay with their company, and 61% reported that training made them feel more productive in their role.

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